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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The NFL is all about adjusting and adapting. If an opponent is taking something away, you have to be able to respond – to counter their plan, to find a different way to beat them. On Saturday, the Vikings offense was unable to do so, and their season is over because of it.

There are plenty of reasons why the Vikings lost to the 49ers in blowout fashion. They couldn't stop the run. They gave up too many third down conversions. They dropped a punt. But above all, they lost because they didn't have a "Plan B" on offense. When running the ball didn't work, when the 49ers shut down Dalvin Cook, they failed to find another way to sustain drives and move down the field.

"We knew on both sides of the ball, we had to run the ball and stop the run to be successful in the playoffs, especially against a team like this," wide receiver Adam Thielen said. "We knew it was going to be a battle. We just didn't execute and didn't make the plays when we had the opportunity to and they punched us in the mouth."

This was the culmination of a season-long trend. When the Vikings ran the ball effectively and got ahead in ballgames, their entire offense became deadly. The threat of the run kept defenses on their heels and unlocked the play-action game that Kirk Cousins thrives on. Yet, when the run game wasn't working and the Vikings found themselves trailing, the offense looked utterly incompetent. It happened in Chicago in Week 4. It happened against the Packers a few weeks ago. And it reared its ugly head Saturday at the worst possible time.

Facing a defense that was geared up to stop him, Cook never had a chance. He touched the ball 15 times and gained a grand total of 26 yards. Cook was hit right at the line scrimmage on nearly all his carries, which meant he was unable to use his open-field agility to generate any explosive runs.

As a unit, the Vikings offense had seven first downs, the third-fewest in NFL playoff history. They averaged 3.3 yards per play. They were completely stifled, and it was all because the 49ers stopped the run.

"It looked like they just got off blocks well, and had extra guys at the point of attack," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "They were a lot better than we were today."

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The Vikings tried everything with Cook. They tried running the ball up the middle and to the outside. Neither worked. Cook had nine carries for 18 yards, with a long of six yards. They tried, again and again, to get him going on screen passes, something they've had a lot of success with this season. He was targeted eight times, catching six, for eight yards. The 49ers refused to let Cook beat them. They rallied to the ball on every attempted screen, preventing him from turning upfield and getting loose.

They punched the Vikings in the mouth, to use Thielen's phrasing, and the Vikings didn't offer a counter.

"We just weren't really able to get in a rhythm, so they were able to sit back and do what they do," Cook said. "They were just able to fly around and make plays. They came ready to play."

The Vikings' inability to adjust is an indictment on their entire offensive approach. Sometimes, great defenses are going to shut down the running game. When that happens, you have to be able to beat them through the air. The Vikings have shown multiple times this season that they're incapable of doing that.

Trailing for the entire second half, the Vikings were forced to become one-dimensional. Much like the second half in Chicago early in the season, they were unable to be productive against a top-notch pass rush that was able to pin its ears back and attack. The offensive line failed to give Cousins time to find receivers downfield, and he ended up on his back time and time again. The 49ers finished with six sacks, most of them coming late in the game.

"We struggled to run it effectively, and that made it tough," Cousins said. "We had some third downs that were longer after not being productive on first and second down, and then not converting third downs so we weren't able to stay on the field and run more plays. They just do a good job of keeping things in front of them and forcing you to gain bit by bit."

When the Vikings offense fails to get into a rhythm, there's no adaptability. The play-calling of offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski remains rigid and predictable, and the offensive line isn't good enough to hold up in obvious passing situations. Perhaps most importantly, Cousins is unable to escape the pocket and make plays against a great pass rush. He threw a killer interception and was held to 172 yards on 29 attempts.

Now, the Vikings enter an offseason where they need to think long and hard about the way their offense is constructed. If Cousins can only be effective when the running game is working, can he ever lead a team to a championship?

This won't be the last time the Vikings find themselves trailing to a great defense on the road. Unless they make some changes, there's no reason to expect the end result of any  future comeback attempts to be different.