SANTA CLARA, Calif. – A trip to the NFC Championship game was there for the taking; the Vikings just had to reach out and grab it. Instead, they shrunk in another big game, proving last week's victory in New Orleans to be nothing more than an exception to a season-long rule.
Give credit to the 49ers. On a perfect January day in northern California, they were clearly the better team. This team was the No. 1 seed for a reason, and they won with the formula that worked all season: a powerful running game and a stout, opportunistic defense. The 49ers out-classed the Vikings in every way in a dominant 27-10 victory, and will play at Levi's Stadium next Sunday for a trip to the Super Bowl.
For the Vikings, this was a disappointing – though not entirely surprising – way for their season to come to an end. Facing an outstanding defense on the road, the offense could get nothing going. It was a performance reminiscent of early-season losses to the Packers and Bears, as well as the Week 16 home loss to Green Bay.
The offensive line was overmatched, which didn't allow Dalvin Cook to get anything going. The play-calling was suspect. And Kirk Cousins wasn't good enough nor aggressive enough, though even a perfect game from the Vikings' quarterback may not have resulted in a victory.
Defensively, the Vikings just ran out of gas. The offense did its defense zero favors by failing to put together any lengthy drives, and as a result, fatigue became a clear factor in the second half. The 49ers ran the ball down the Vikings' throats all game, especially as they worked with a lead after halftime. With no resistance at the line of scrimmage, Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert picked up chunk after chunk of yardage to keep their offense on schedule.
The stats paint a pretty clear picture. The 49ers had 21 first downs; the Vikings had seven (with three of those coming in garbage time). Prior to a meaningless drive late in the game, the 49ers out-gained the Vikings 299 to 81. Despite having Cook and Alexander Mattison, the Vikings finished with 21 rushing yards. The 49ers ran for 185. Cousins was sacked six times, intercepted once, and had only 87 passing yards before the last drive.
With a chance to get the ball back down by 14 late in the third quarter, Marcus Sherels muffed a punt deep in his own territory, and the game felt over at that point.
The Vikings hung around in the first half. They tied the game at 7-7 on a 41-yard touchdown by Stefon Diggs in the first quarter, but that would prove to be their only impressive drive of the game. An Eric Kendricks interception in 49ers territory allowed Minnesota to cut the deficit to 14-10 at halftime.
On the Vikings' first possession of the second half, they got the ball down 17-10. On third and nine, Cousins threw an interception right into the hands of Richard Sherman. The 49ers ran the ball eight straight times and scored to take a two-possession lead. From there, the Vikings offense – one that has rarely shown an ability to be effective while trailing this season – couldn't muster any sort of comeback attempt.
With the loss, the 1987 Vikings remain the most recent team in franchise history to win two games in a single postseason. That team did what the Vikings couldn't, by winning at San Francisco in the divisional round.
Now, these Vikings enter the offseason with countless questions they need to ask themselves. Roster changes will be made, and there may be shakeups to the coaching staff as well. It'll be interesting to see what happens. There's still plenty of talent on the roster, but some of the core players are starting to look like they're on the other side of their prime.
The one thing we know for certain is that the 2019 Vikings weren't good enough to win a Super Bowl. They showed that several times during the regular season, and offered one more resounding reminder on Saturday afternoon.