As the 49ers offense drove 44 yards down field midway through the third quarter, they could hear as the Vikings defensive line began to argue with one another.
San Francisco was in the midst of their most impressive drive of the game, running the ball on eight consecutive plays on its way to the end zone for the third time of the afternoon.
“They were really frustrated and things like that,” 49ers running back Tevin Coleman recalled. “You can just see it in their energy and body language… That’s why Kyle [Shanahan] wanted to keep on going with the run.”
In the first-ever playoff game against the visiting Minnesota Vikings Saturday afternoon, the 49ers put forth a dominant showing, pouring nearly 200 rushing yards on one of the most dominant defenses in the NFL.
With a suffocating effort from their own defense to boot, San Francisco won its first playoff game in six years and the first under head coach Kyle Shanahan, 27-10, punching its ticket to the NFC Championship game next Sunday.
“We had a goal going into this game — we thought the team that ran over 30 times would win this game. We ended up getting 47,” Shanahan said. “When you see the way the defense is playing, I think it’s easier to stick with that. The whole team fed off of it.”
Heading into Saturday’s game, one of the largest question marks that loomed over the 49ers was who would start at cornerback alongside veteran defensive back Richard Sherman.
Ahkello Witherspoon, who was benched for Emmanuel Moseley in Week 17 against Seattle wound up getting the nod but was quickly yanked after allowing a 41-yard touchdown to Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs, who found the end zone on a go-route down the left sideline.
In the last five games, Witherspoon has given up six touchdown passes, five more than his total through the first six games of the season.
In his place, Moseley proved to be valuable, recording a pair of pass breakups and contributing to the game plan of stopping Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who rushed for just 18 yards on nine carries.
“It’s the same just like I’m starting,” Moseley said. “I prepare the same and when my number is called, I just go out there.”
With Moseley inserted, mending the secondary with that one move, the 49ers defense was able to get back to its pulverizing style of play. This included getting in the grill of Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins, who finished the day with 172 passing yards and an interception.
In total, the 49ers recorded six sacks — the most they’ve had since Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers when they recorded seven. Leading this charge was rookie defensive end Nick Bosa, who was credited with two of the six sacks on Cousins.
Bosa’s run-stopping abilities were on full display as well, as he chased Cook down the line of scrimmage on several occasions, laying bruising hits on Minnesota’s leading rusher in the process.
“That’s what we do,” Bosa said. “Backside players are huge in our defense. We got to run every play we’re in there. Usually running backs run out of bounds, try to avoid you. I got a couple of good hits on them today.”
Bosa also credited some of the defense’s energy and liveliness to the additions of linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive end Dee Ford and safety Jaquiski Tartt, who all dealt with injuries heading into the divisional playoff matchup.
“I knew getting Dee, Kwon and Tartt, just having them on the field, it’s a completely different energy,” Bosa said.
A scary moment from fans’ perspective rose in the third quarter after Bosa recorded his first sack of the game, staying down after the play. But as the stadium chanted “BOSA! BOSA! BOSA!,” the former second overall pick hopped to his feet, bouncing to the sideline and raising his arms to the crowd.
Bosa merely had the wind knocked out of him and opted to stay on the ground to regain his breath before the next play.
As San Francisco’s defense smothered the Vikings offense, which failed to gain a first down in the second half until the late stages of the fourth quarter, the 49ers offense adopted the same mentality with its run game.
After Sherman picked off Cousins near mid-field, the 49ers offense took over and embarked on one of the most methodical drives of the year, executing eight-straight run plays. 44 yards later, Coleman squeezed through a hole, rolling into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day.
“We didn’t start out that way,” Shanahan said. “It was just one hell of a job by the O-line coming off the ball, getting some push. When you do that, you wear guys down.”
Wearing guys down was an understatement. In the third quarter, the 49er controlled the time of possession 12:39-2:21 triggering immense frustration from the Vikings defensive front according to Coleman who finished with 105 yards to go along with his pair of touchdowns.
But as Minnesota began to bicker and argue, the 49ers began to trot their way to victory — the first playoff win for Shanahan as a head coach along with over 40 members of the 49ers roster who had yet to play in a postseason game before Saturday.
With the win, the 49ers will host the NFC Championship game next Sunday against the winner of Sunday’s divisional showdown between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.
“All you think about is the game,” Shanahan said. “We just got that done. Not trying to celebrate anything… Now it’s can’t wait to watch these games tomorrow and find out who we’re playing.”