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Vikings' Depleted Defense Gashed By 49ers' Run Game in 34-26 Loss

This was another crazy Vikings game, but the end result is their most lopsided loss of the season — an eight-point defeat.

It's almost eery how every Vikings game this season seems to follow the exact same script, albeit one with two different endings.

They'll take an early lead, as they did against the 49ers on Sunday in going up 7-0 and 14-7 early on. They'll start to unravel at the end of the first half and early in the second half, as they did when the 49ers went on a 21-0 run in 4:09 of game time to take a two-touchdown lead. They'll respond by showing some life, as they did in cutting it to a 31-26 deficit on Kene Nwangwu's second kickoff return touchdown of the season in the third quarter.

And in the end, they'll have opportunities to win the game. They've capitalized on those chances several times this season, including last week against the Packers. This week, Kirk Cousins and the offense came up short on two key drives in the fourth quarter as the Vikings fell 34-26 to the 49ers.

More concerning than the final score is the status of superstar running back Dalvin Cook, who was carted off the field in the third quarter and quickly ruled out for the game with a shoulder injury. Mike Zimmer said Cook will have an MRI on Monday, so we won't know the severity of the injury until then.

Several things hurt the Vikings in this loss, which was their most lopsided of the season at an eight-point margin. (Technically, this was their sixth one-score loss of the year). The biggest one was their inability to stop the run. Playing without their entire starting defensive line, the Vikings gave up 208 rushing yards to the 49ers, including 199 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries by Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel. San Francisco netted barely more yardage (215 yards) in the passing game than it did on the ground, as the Vikings' backups had no answers up front. Anthony Barr also left the game in the second half, which made things even more difficult for a defense that appeared to run out of steam late in the game.

Offensively, the Vikings were killed by the aforementioned turnovers and missed opportunities. Trailing 21-14 early in the second half, Kirk Cousins threw a ball right to 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, who nearly returned it for a touchdown. It was just the third interception of the season for Cousins. One play later, the deficit was 14 points. Then, after getting the ball back down just 31-26 late in the third, Cook fumbled on the play that resulted in his significant-looking shoulder injury. Al-Shaair recovered, and the 49ers turned it into three points.

Despite their shoddy run defense and those two turnovers deep in their own territory, the Vikings had two drives where they could've potentially tied it up in the fourth quarter. On the first possession of the quarter, they drove all the way down the field and found themselves facing first-and-goal from the SF 6. After two unsuccessful Alexander Mattison runs, Cousins threw two straight incompletions in the end zone and the opportunity was wasted.

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But because Vikings games this year are required by law to be as insane as possible, they got another opportunity. The defense came up with a big late stop and Robbie Gould sent a field goal wide right.

The offense couldn't find any magic, getting to the 49ers' 40-yard-line before coming up short on four consecutive plays to seal the loss.

There were a few questionable decisions and calls by the referees that seemed to play a role in the Vikings' loss, but those weren't the reason they lost. Their inability to stop the run, the defense giving up big pass plays in a few important spots, and the turnovers and missed opportunities by the offense are ultimately why the Vikings couldn't pull off the road upset on Sunday afternoon.

This was a tough loss for the Vikings, dropping them to 5-6 and making the 6-5 49ers tough to catch in the wild card race now that the head-to-head tiebreaker is in San Francisco's favor. Still, I don't think the Vikings should be too discouraged by today's outcome.

Next week, they get the winless Lions. After that, they face a very beatable Steelers team at home on Thursday Night Football. If the Vikings can win those two and get to 7-6, they'll likely be in a good position to get to the playoffs by finishing at least 2-2 in their final four games.

Time to hope for good news regarding Cook's injury, learn from what went well and what went wrong in this game, and move on. There's plenty of season left.

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