The Vikings kept it admirably close, but had no answer for the 49ers’ running game. San Francisco notched their third straight victory by a score of 34-26. The 49ers increase their playoff chances, while the Vikings lose yet another one possession game.
The first half everyone expected
The 49ers did what has led to their recent success. There was a healthy balance of running and passing plays, which is possible when a team runs the ball as well as they do. Wide receiver-turned-running back Deebo Samuel had a 20 yard rushing touchdown, and Elijah Mitchell was electric. There always seems to be space for him to run. The offensive line created some nice holes, but Mitchell is definitely a star in the making. Vikings’ tacklers appeared to be a half-step behind him on most plays.
The Vikings offense also had a smart first half. Following a Harrison Smith interception, Kirk Cousins hit Adam Thielen on 4th and goal to give Minnesota a 7-0 lead. Previously on the drive, the Vikings executed a flea flicker to help get them into position. The play-calling for the Vikings offense was on point later in the half as well, as Thielen added his second TD on a nice play-action rollout by Cousins.
However, the 49ers responded in a big way. They ended the first half on a 15 play, 85 yard drive that ate up 8:20. They tied the game at 14 on Garoppolo’s pass to Jauan Jennings, and this is how the game would enter half time.
Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell are good at football
Sometimes superlatives can water things down too much. In this case, I will keep it simple: Samuel and Mitchell are very good at what they do. After smartly eating up almost all of the clock at the end of the first half, the 49ers started the third quarter with the ball. Deebo Samuel hit a 50 plus yard run to get the drive going, and then added his second rushing touchdown of the game. He now has 5 rushing touchdowns on the season, which gives him the most by a wide receiver in the Super Bowl era. The Vikings had to have known that Deebo was going to get some running plays, but it didn’t matter.
Elijah Mitchell had himself a game as well. He rushed for 133 yards on 27 carries, and completely wore down the Vikings defense. He only had forward momentum in this one, and allowed the 49ers to stay in desirable 2nd and 3rd down yardage for the most part. Mitchell is having a great season overall, and if this trend using Samuel as a running back continues, San Francisco’s formula for success will be hard to counter.
The Vikings were in this game throughout, and even had a brief chance at the end after a Robbie Gould missed FG. However, they made too many key mistakes against a team that can hold on to the ball and sustain drives. Immediately after the 49ers took a 21-14 lead, Cousins was intercepted by Azeez Al-Shaair, who returned the ball to the Vikings two yard line. Mitchell punched it in on the next play, and the 49ers were up by two scores. Spotting a team fourteen points to start a second half is a recipe for disaster.
The Vikings were resilient, though, and scored on the next possession. Alexander Mattison capped off an impressive response drive, but Greg Joseph missed the ensuing extra point. This is another mistake that would affect the game later on. The Vikings were finally able to slow the 49ers offense on the next drive, holding them to a Robbie Gould FG. Then, exciting rookie Kene Nwangwu ran the following kick-off back 99 yards to bring the score to 31-26. The missed extra point remained a factor here, as the Vikings attempted a two point conversion, but failed.
Trailing now 31-26, the Vikings were able to hold the 49ers on their next drive, but Dalvin Cook fumbled away possession. This led to another Gould FG, and the 49ers extended their lead to 34-26. I would be remiss not to at least acknowledge that the 49ers defense made some big plays as well. They gave up a lot of yards through the air, but held the Vikings to a paltry 67 rushing yards, and of course generated the aforementioned turnovers.
Vikings’ last chance?
The Vikings sustained a good drive about midway through the fourth quarter, and reached a 1st and goal scenario from inside the 5. After two generic handoffs up the middle, Kirk Cousins threw consecutive incompletions on 3rd and 4th and goal. Although the game wasn’t over at the 9:04 mark, the momentum had clearly shifted.
The 49ers’ running game began to take over, and the Vikings’ tired defense could not prevent San Francisco from converting first downs.
San Francisco’s Running Game
I feel like all I have done is mention how well Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell ran the ball, but it is indeed the biggest story of the game. The 49ers ran for over 200 yards as a unit, and keeping Cousins and the Vikings’ offense off the field was a huge key to their victory.
Additionally, Jimmy Garoppolo is a quarterback who needs this type of run support. Garoppolo the game manager had some nice throws, but he also had some inexplicable overthrows. He hit Brandon Aiyuk for some key long conversions, but these were passes to pretty open zones in the Vikings’ secondary. If the 49ers are to continue this success into the playoffs, he will need to continue to be efficient and to protect the football. If a team out there can stymie this rushing attack, the 49ers will be toast. The good thing for Niners fans, though, is that opposing defenses know this is their game plan, but they still haven’t found a way to stop it. The 49ers are not going to surprise you, they are just going to run you over.
The playoffs are here
This game felt like a playoff game from start to finish. Things got chippy at times, there were big plays from big players, and both teams wanted to win at all costs. Being 5-5 at the start of this game, both the Vikings and the 49ers undoubtedly viewed this matchup as the beginning to their post-season runs.
The NFC has a lot of teams with playoff potential, so both teams here need to find ways to win games. It may be worth noting, then, that both Dalvin Cook for Minnesota and Deebo Samuel for San Francisco did not finish the game due to injury.
The 49ers travel to Seattle in Week 13 to face the Seahawks in a tough divisional matchup. They will need to keep their running game on point, and their defense can benefit from a favorable game script.
For the Vikings, they travel to Detroit for a key divisional matchup as well. Detroit has yet to win a game, but they almost stole one in Minneapolis earlier this season. The Vikings need to rebound against the Lions in a big way.