49ers run over Vikings, 34-26, in game with big playoff implications
San Francisco vaults Minnesota and into sixth place in the NFC playoff race
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Once again, the Minnesota Vikings got run out of Levi’s Stadium.
This time, it wasn’t necessarily by the score. But San Francisco again ran the ball at will in a 34-26 victory on Sunday.
The 49ers rolled up 208 yards rushing against a Minnesota defensive line that was missing all four of its preferred starters. In their past appearances at Levi’s Stadium, the Vikings gave up 230 rushing yards in a 20-3 loss to open the 2015 season and 186 yards in 27-10 playoff loss here following the 2019 season.
The Vikings managed just 67 yards rushing and lost star running back Dalvin Cook for the game with a shoulder injury suffered late in the third quarter. Cook, who was taken off while sitting up on a cart, carried 10 times for just 39 yards. Head coach Mike Zimmer said Cook with have an MRI exam on Monday, and he didn’t know if the injury could be season ending.
“You just hate to see him go down and be carted off and be in the pain he was in,’’ said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. “It’s tough to see that from a teammate like Dalvin, that’s such a key piece of our team and our offense.”
Cook entered the game fifth in the NFL in rushing with 734 yards while San Francisco’s Elijah Mitchell was 15th with 560 yards. But Mitchell had stolen the show well before Cook was injured, and finished with 137 yards on 27 carries.
Trailing 34-26, the Vikings had a chance to tie the score but Cousins threw an incompletion to Justin Jefferson on fourth-and-goal from the 49ers’ 3-yard line with 9:09 remaining. Later, on fourth-and-8 at the 49ers’ 38, Cousins threw incomplete to Jefferson with 45 seconds left.
“We came up short,’’ Cousins said. “Very disappointing. This one hurts.”
The win vaulted 49ers (6-5) into the No. 6 spot in the NFC playoff race. Seven teams make the playoffs, and the Vikings (5-6) currently sit at No. 7.
“We’re absolutely right there,’’ said Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks. “You know what I mean? Absolutely. Don’t count us out.”
Kendricks said “it sucks getting ran on like that” by the 49ers. But he said the Vikings defense was “battling the whole game” despite being depleted.
The Vikings lost linebacker Anthony Barr midway through the third quarter with a hamstring injury. That came after last week they placed defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson on the COVID-19 reserve list and defensive end Everson Griffen on the non-football illness list after he had a mental health situation.
Tomlinson and Griffen joined in being out with defensive end Danielle Hunter, who is done for the season, and nose tackle Michael Pierce, who is on injured reserve. James Lynch replaced Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson took over for Griffen.
“It was difficult … But that’s NFL life,’’ Zimmer said.
Zimmer criticized the officiating, claiming that played a part in the 49ers rolling up so many rushing yards.
“These guys hold all the time,’’ Zimmer said. “So they’re grabbing us around the waist, grabbing our backs. The officials, they don’t want to call it on every play, but until they start calling it on every play, they’re not gonna stop doing it.”
Zimmer claimed the 49ers should have called for holding on a 20-yard touchdown run by 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the first quarter that tied the score 7-7. Samuel had six carries for 66 yards and also scored on 3-yard run early in the third quarter that gave San Francisco the lead for good at 21-14.
Despite Zimmer’s complaints, the Vikings had a chance to pull the game out in the fourth quarter. The best chance was on fourth-and-goal from the 3, but Cousins overthrew Jefferson at the back of the end zone.
“We’ve just got to execute our plays,’’ Jefferson said. “We should not be in that close of a position and not get in the end zone. We’ve just got to punch it in.”
Cousins completed 20 of 32 for 238 yards and two touchdowns, both to Adam Thielen, but he threw just his third interception of the season. His second touchdown pass, a 20-yard yard strike, gave the Vikings a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.
But the 49ers scored the next 21 points for a 28-14 lead, and all came in a span of 4:09 late in the second quarter and the start of the third. They got a 3-yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to Jauan Jennings with 18 seconds left in the first half. Then early in the third quarter they got the 3-yard run by Samuel and a 2-yard TD run by Mitchell.
Mitchell’s TD came one play after Cousins threw his first interception since Oct. 10 against Detroit, and had a span of 212 passes without one. His short pass was picked off by 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair and returned 24 yards to the Minnesota 2.
“Just a poor throw, poor read, make a poor decision,’’ Cousins said.
After Mitchell’s touchdown, Alexander Mattison scored on a 6-yard run, but Greg Joseph missed the extra point and the Vikings trailed 28-20.
The Vikings later cut the deficit to 31-26 on a 99-yard kickoff return by Kene Nwangwu, his second return for a TD this season, with 4:46 left in the third quarter.
Shortly after that, the Vikings lost the running threat Cook provides. He was hurt with 1:30 left in the third quarter when he was tackled for a four-yard loss on the right side by Kevin Givens and lost a fumble that was recovered by Al-Shaair. Robbie Gould soon closed the scoring on a 22-yard field goal with 9 seconds left in the quarter for a 34-26 lead.
“We don’t know how serious (Cook’s) injury is but just keeping him in our prayers and hopefully he’s OK and comes back for us,’’ Jefferson said. “He knows all the teammates have his back.”