The offensive formula for the Minnesota Vikings has been fairly simple this season. Establish the run with Dalvin Cook to set up some play-action deep shots for Kirk Cousins.
With Cook unable to get anything going on the ground against San Francisco, the Vikings had no chance against a healthy 49ers defense and lost the divisional round playoff game 27-10 on Saturday.
”We were just not really able to get in a rhythm so they were able to sit back and do what they do,” Cook said. ”We just never got a rhythm and they were able to fly around and make plays.”
Cook got the ball 15 times on the day and was held to only 26 yards, gaining 18 yards on nine carries and 8 on six catches. It’s a far cry from the season when he gained 1,654 yards in just 14 games to power the offense.
That’s the kind of day it was for the Vikings (11-7) on offense as they were held to 81 yards and four first downs on their first nine drives of the game before padding the numbers a bit on two meaningless drives at the end.
In fact, over those nine drives the Vikings gained more yards on a 41-yard TD pass from Cousins to Stefon Diggs in the second quarter than they did on their other 32 plays as the run game never got going and Cousins was under constant pressure.
”They got a lot of edge rushers,” Diggs said. ”Edge rushers and they defend the run really well. The guys they got on their front seven are very active. They just start with their D-linemen, and that’s where it all starts.”
The Vikings were hoping to build on last week’s 26-20 overtime victory at New Orleans and win multiple playoff games in the same season for the first time since 1987 when they went on the road and upset the Saints and 49ers in the first two rounds.
That pattern didn’t repeat this year even though Minnesota kept it close in the first half thanks in part to the one big pass from Cousins to Diggs.
Then with a chance to tie the game late in the half after Eric Kendricks intercepted a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to set Minnesota up at the San Francisco 29, things began to fall apart.
Cousins completed a pass to Adam Thielen to give the Vikings a first down at the 16. But Cook was hit for a 1-yard loss, Cousins threw an incompletion to Diggs and then was sacked on third down by Dee Ford. A field goal cut the lead to 14-10 and San Francisco pulled away in the second half.
The Niners got a field goal to start the third quarter and then Richard Sherman anticipated the route by Thielen and intercepted Cousins.
”It was completely my fault,” Thielen said. ”I didn’t cross his face and obviously he trusted me to win on that route and make a play on the ball. I didn’t do that.”
Eight straight runs led to another touchdown and the Vikings never had a chance from there against a defense that was back to its early season form when San Francisco got off to an 8-0 start.
Cousins finished 21 for 29 for 172 yards but was also sacked six times.
”We knew what we would be facing,” Cousins said. ”We knew they were the No. 1 seed with a bye and home-field advantage. You earn that, and you’re a good team. You can look at a lot of their statistical numbers on defense. They’ve proven that they’re a good front, a good defense and a good team.”
The Vikings once again proved they don’t have quite enough to make a long playoff run. They have had success in six seasons under coach Mike Zimmer with four winning records and three playoff berths.
But they haven’t made it to the Super Bowl since the 1976 season when they lost the championship game for the fourth time in a span of eight seasons.
”There’s so many ups and downs throughout the course of it,” Zimmer said. ”I know that I’m proud of this football team. The way they competed and worked and did all the things that they had to do throughout the course of the year. It’s unfortunate we didn’t play better today. It’s not a good day to reminisce.”
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