The San Francisco 49ers aced their first postseason test under Kyle Shanahan, easily defeating the Minnesota Vikings 27-10 in their first playoff game at Levi’s Stadium. It was a dominant all-around performance that saw San Francisco impose their will on offense, defense, and special teams. We also saw the rest of the divisional playoffs unfold throughout the weekend, painting the picture for the NFC and AFC Championships.
Here’s our takeaways from San Francisco’s playoff win and the rest of divisional weekend:
Stage is set
The 49ers will host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, January 19th, at Levi’s Stadium for the NFC Championship and a trip to Super Bowl 54. The Packers defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Green Bay on Sunday night in the frigid cold of Lambeau Field. The game came down to the final drive, of course, with Aaron Rodgers making two clutch throws on a pair of third downs to extend the drive and seal the victory.
It’ll be the second time the 49ers and Packers have met this season, San Francisco authoring a convincing 37-8 win in Week 12 at home over the Packers. In that game, the defense stifled Aaron Rodgers en route the worst statistical performance of his career, sacking the Green Bay quarterback five times and limiting him to 104 yards through the air. It was a dominant win that should give the 49ers cautious confidence heading into their rematch.
Defense returns to form
The 49ers’ last five games of the regular season all came down to the final minute or the final play. That wasn’t the case on Saturday against the Vikings, who were held to just seven first downs (in comparison to the 49ers’ 21) and 10 points. Minnesota’s only touchdown came in the first quarter after victimizing Ahkello Witherspoon for most of the drive. The 49ers cornerback gave up a first down, was flagged for pass interference, and gave up a deep touchdown to receiver Stefon Diggs. Once Witherspoon was replaced with Emmanuel Moseley, the defense teed off, holding the Vikings offense to just three points for the rest of the game. Minnesota had no answer for the 49ers’ relentless defensive front. More on them later.
An up-and-down game for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was offset by a dominant rushing attack. In the third quarter, cornerback Richard Sherman picked off Cousins and returned it to the Vikings’ 44-yard line. What followed was a statement drive, Shanahan ripping the soul away from the Vikings defense with an onslaught of running plays all the way into the endzone. Not a single pass. It was running back Tevin Coleman’s second touchdown of the day, putting the 49ers up 24-10 late in the third quarter. The Vikings wouldn’t score another point.
Pass rush engage
The 49ers defense struggled to get after the quarterback to close out the regular season, playing a significant role in the tightly contested games late in the year. Over the last five weeks, the 49ers only managed four sacks. They eclipsed that number against the Vikings on Sunday. San Francisco’s bevy of former first-round picks - Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, and Nick Bosa - all sacked Cousins. Bosa’s two sacks brought the team total to six. The 49ers’ stinginess against the run (21 yards allowed) and Ford’s return from a strained hamstring enabled Robert Saleh’s defensive front to return to dominance.
The 49ers are one win away from the Super Bowl. While the team has their sights set on a rematch with Green Bay, we’ll take a quick glance at the teams that could await Shanahan’s squad if they make it to the show. Both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tennessee Titans impressed during the divisional round of the playoffs, presenting two drastically different styles of play.
The Chiefs went down 24-0 in the first half and still managed to make it a 51-31 blowout over the Houston Texans. The Titans shocked the Baltimore Ravens 28-12 behind a standout performance from running back Derick Henry, who ran for 195 yards. The Chiefs earn their money through the air behind quarterback Patrick Mahomes while the Titans do the same on the ground with Henry, complimented by a stingy defense. The two teams couldn’t be more different, and their matchup will be one to watch on Sunday.