The 49ers continued their upward swing in the standings, defeating the Vikings 34-26 at Levi’s Stadium. While both teams entered with 5-5 records, the Niners are back above .500 for the first time since Week 3 and are currently in the second NFC wild-card spot.
Here’s how each 49ers position group contributed to the win:
Things looked ugly on the first drive of the game for Jimmy Garoppolo. Three of his first four throws were head-scratching decisions and/or wildly inaccurate throws. The third resulted in an interception, and it looked like Garoppolo was about to regress from his recent hot streak with a horrendous performance.
To his credit, while he was far from firing on all cylinders, Garoppolo rebounded and completed 16 of his 22 attempts over the rest of the game, averaging 9.5 yards per attempt. Garoppolo missed some opportunities but avoided turnovers for the rest of the game and made a beautiful throw to Jauan Jennings in the endzone that was nearly a fantastic pitch-and-catch.
This version of Garoppolo was not to the same level as his recent form, but 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan will take this version of Jimmy over what he saw early this season.
Running backs: A
Even with Jeff Wilson Jr. back and Elijah Mitchell just a couple of weeks removed from breaking his finger, Shanahan showed his confidence in the rookie. Wilson received just two carries while Mitchell racked up 133 rushing yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. He also hauled in 5 receptions for 35 receiving yards. Mitchell is quickly going from a fantastic late-round find to another dynamic playmaker for Shanahan to utilize.
Tight ends: B-
George Kittle did not do much on the receiving end, catching just one of two targets for 13 receiving yards, but was as dominant as ever blocking. It’s always tricky to grade Kittle since he helps the offense so much even when he’s not catching the ball, but it would have been nice if he had a more productive receiving day.
Wide receivers: A
Deebo Samuel’s monstrous stretch continued. While his third-quarter groin injury took him out of the game, he already had 78 total yards and two touchdowns, primarily out of the backfield. Through the air, Brandon Aiyuk was the team’s most productive wideout. The former first-round pick continued his recent productive stretch, recording 3 receptions and 91 receiving yards.
Samuel’s injury prognosis is the most important question going forward, but rookie Jauan Jennings also had a bit of a breakout game. Jennings caught two passes for 24 receiving yards and a touchdown but nearly had a fantastic 15-yard touchdown reception as well. Jennings made a great catch on the play, but his knee hit out of bounds just a few inches out of the endzone.
Offensive line: B+
Ignoring Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s sour postgame complaints about the lack of holding calls, the 49ers’ offensive line was once again impressive. The 49ers line was not as dominant as it has been in previous weeks, but it continued giving Mitchell room to operate. Going up against Minnesota’s depleted defensive line, the Niners’ line was not as impressive as one might have expected. Left guard Laken Tomlinson was called for two holding penalties, and Garoppolo suffered two sacks and six quarterback hits. It was a good all-around performance, just not exceptional.
Defensive line: A-
Nick Bosa recorded his 11th sack of the season, and the Niners other edge rushers, Samson Ebukam & Charles Omenihu, each generated solid pressure throughout the game as well. However, it was the 49ers’ interior defensive line that stood out. D.J. Jones was fantastic in the middle of the defensive line, consistently preventing the Vikings from finding any success up the middle. In the few snaps when Jones was not on the field, Kevin Givens dominated at the point of attack.
The 49ers linebacking corp looked back at full strength with Dre Greenlaw back on the field. However, by the end of Sunday, the unit was at its weakest point of the season. Before the end of the game, though, Greenlaw reaggravated his groin while Fred Warner had to leave the game with a hamstring injury. Still, Azeez Al-Shaair is looking more and more like a standout every week. Al-Shaair recorded a pass defended, led the team with 8 tackles (7 solo), and had an interception that led to a touchdown. Al-Shaair continued struggling with missed tackles and did have some issues in coverage, but the Florida Atlantic alum has a nose for big plays. He made enough to make up for his mistakes on Sunday.
While it did not lead to a turnover, veteran cornerback Josh Norman forced another fumble. With that said, about everything else Norman did on Sunday went terribly. He blew multiple coverages, committed a pass interference penalty, and even missed a tackle around the goal line. Emmanuel Moseley and K’Waun Williams were both solid, but Norman’s struggles on the other end make it hard to grade this unit too highly.
The gaps between Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, and Talanoa Hufanga were obvious yesterday. Ward was once again the most consistent player from the group, combining fantastic coverage with consistent tackling. Talanoa Hufanga had one of the worst games of his young career. While he recorded a pair of tackles and one pass defended, he got turned around in pass coverage on one of Adam Thielen’s touchdown receptions. Jaquiski Tartt still looked a bit rusty in his return from injury but racked up four tackles, including a big third-down stop, and recorded a quarterback hit on a blitz.
Special Teams: F
The 49ers’ special teams have been relatively quiet all season, but they opened the door for Minnesota multiple times on Sunday. The 49ers’ kickoff coverage was poor all game, and it helped the Vikings cut the lead with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter. To add insult to injury, kicker Robbie Gould missed a 42-yard field goal to ice the game with two minutes to go, giving the Vikings one last opportunity to tie the game. Had the Niners lost, special teams would have deserved the bulk of the blame.