In the days leading up to Jimmy Garoppolo's first career postseason start, the sixth-year QB's teammates and coaches spoke glowingly about their signal-caller. "I don't have to talk to Jimmy about that," WR Emmanuel Sanders said of playoff pressure. "He knows what it takes to go all the way and win it all."
And on Sunday, Garoppolo delivered as the San Francisco 49ers moved one step closer to winning their first Super Bowl since 1994. The Niners, behind their balanced offensive attack and stout defense, pulled away in a 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, scoring 13 second-half points and pitching a shutout in the game's final 30 minutes. They limited Minnesota's bell-cow running back Dalvin Cook to only 18 yards on eight carries, reinforcing the same dominance that they showed throughout their 13-3 regular season.
Despite only 11 players on the 49ers' active roster on Saturday having postseason experience, San Francisco looked both calm and poised to open the first quarter. After forcing a Minnesota punt, Garoppolo marched his team downfield on an eight-play, 61-yard scoring drive, completing five passes to four different receivers, the last of which was a three-yard score to wideout Kendrick Bourne.
Minnesota would answer on its ensuing possession thanks to a 41-yard touchdown catch from Stefon Diggs, but the Vikings would total only 50 total yards on their 21 other plays of the first half.
San Francisco led 14-10 at halftime, but tacked on a field goal on its first drive out of the locker room. Following a Richard Sherman interception, the Niners needed only eight plays and 44 yards to double their seven-point lead. Another field goal early in the fourth quarter pushed their advantage to 17. Garoppollo finished with 131 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception. Tevin Coleman rushed for 105 yards and a score to highlight San Francisco's 186-yard rushing day.
It was 32 years ago when a Vikings team coach by Jerry Burns went on the road in the wild-card round and beat the Saints in New Orleans. The next week, they followed that up by beating the 49ers in San Francisco.
This year's Vikings, now coached by Mike Zimmer, entered Saturday looking to follow a similar script. But this season's iteration struggled to muster up enough production on both offense and defense. With Cook limited, Kirk Cousins threw for only 172 yards. He added one touchdown and one interception. As a team, Minnesota recorded only seven first downs compared to San Francisco's 21.
Earlier in the week, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan talked about his QB's poise, saying he knew that Garoppolo could handle himself in big games. But more broadly, the 49ers as an entire team handled the pressure that accompanies being the NFC's No. 1 seed with a familiar calm. As a reward, they'll host the winner of Sunday's Seahawks-Packers game next weekend.
A Super Bowl appearance sits only four quarters away.