© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Yes, there were nerves, some first-time-in-the-playoffs behavior and pull-your-hair-out decisions.
Jimmy Garoppolo threw a bad interception and nearly threw a few more. Mike McGlinchey lost track of the snap count. Richie James Jr. seemed to try and turn the ball over every time he returned a punt and Ahkello Witherspoon was torched (for the one possession he played).
But all that nervous, first-time energy was washed away by the second half.
Aside from Kirk Cousins’ 41-yard connection with Stefon Diggs for a touchdown against the quickly-removed Witherspoon, the Vikings’ offense (which is essentially Dalvin Cook plus play-action) was all but neutered.
The only asterisk from an offensive point of view was Garoppolo’s interception, in which he didn’t see linebacker Anthony Barr. McGlinchey had a false start, missed a block on a run play and allowed a sack due to not knowing or hearing the snap count.
But that was the 49ers at their worst, at their jitteriest, if you will, and they ended the first half with a 14-10 lead and the ball back to start the second.
In many ways, what head coach Kyle Shanahan did to the Vikings in the second half was cruel and unusual punishment for a team with six days off after an overtime game in New Orleans. It was billed as a run game-oriented slugfest, but only one side was throwing punches.
And the hero was Tevin Coleman, who hasn’t taken that title since Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers (11 receptions, 105 yards, 3 rushing TD, two receptions, 13 yards, 2 TD), and since that game, has has a wretched go of it (212 rushing yards, 3.2 yards per carry, 1 TD, 119 receiving yards).
The Vikings death was death by rushing, and Coleman led that charge, defined best by and eight-play, 44-yard touchdown drive that was all runs. Shanahan put the ball in Coleman’s hands five times (29 yards, TD) and Raheem Mostert’s thrice (15 yards) that ended with Coleman’s second rushing touchdown on the day.
He and Mostert, who had what was effectively a game-sealing fumble recovery as a gunner on a punt (but left with a calf injury and didn’t return), just terrorized Minnesota’s exhausted defense in the second half. Even Matt Breida got in on the action late.
In the second half, San Francisco rushed the ball an almost unbelievable 38 times and passed just six times. Here’s how those backs finished the game:
Tevin Coleman: 22 carries, 105 yards, 2 TD
Raheem Mostert: 12 carries, 58 yards
Matt Breida: 8 carries, 17 yards
And it was on both sides of the ball. Cook and Alexander Mattison combined for a woeful 21 yards (18 for Cook on nine carries, three for Mattison on one). The 49ers’ defensive line was rightfully questioned if it could stop a run-heavy team. They answered that question with deafening clarity, and forced Kirk Cousins (21-of-29, 172 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), who is not a good quarterback when he’s the only offense, into the ground six times.
Nick Bosa had two sacks, along with one each for the rest of the starting four (Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford) and one late for Solomon Thomas. It was a brutal, dominant defensive performance that was relentless from the moment Moseley replaced Witherspoon as the only evident weakness. Ford’s impact was clear, as was Jaquiski Tartt’s, who was fantastic in the secondary.
Sure, Garoppolo wasn’t great (11-of-19, 131 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), but just like at the start of the season, the defense and run game were too good for it to matter.
And now the 49ers are not just back in the playoffs, but winning. Levi’s Stadium has its first win, and the snide is off for many of these young players, who will host one of the Seattle Seahawks or Green Bay Packers here in a week, in the 49ers’ 16th NFC Championship game.