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The final time the 49ers and Vikings met changed into under a ways assorted circumstances, first and most major up of their disappointing 2018 seasons, no longer shut to the terminate of their promising 2019 proofs of realizing. That matchup, a 24-16 Minnesota victory at U.S. Bank Stadium, marked Kirk Cousins’ first sport in pink and gold and Jimmy Garoppolo’s first with the Niners after inking his franchise QB contract. Small would be gleaned from that Week 1 meeting, the major pause in a marketing campaign for all sides that could tumble below expectations — San Francisco and Minnesota skipped over the playoffs, the latter by exact a sport — however that 2nd in time is a invaluable level of reference to level how rapidly fortunes and expectations can substitute for teams on the precipice of greatness.
On Saturday afternoon, a wholesome Garoppolo and the highest-seeded Niners will play host to a reclaimed Cousins and the wild-card Vikings in the major playoff sport played at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium. Technically, Extensive Bowl 50 changed into additionally held at the Gargantuan Bellbottom, however for the storied 49ers, Saturday might per chance be the faithful initiate up of one thing unique, their reintroduction to January soccer after 5 long seasons away. The Niners reached this level in the calendar in the third one year of the Kyle Shanahan-John Lynch experiment after two seasons of inconsistent quarterbacking (i.e. who changed into quarterbacking), underwhelming protection and injury woes. The injury trojan horse hasn’t left the constructing — exact count on Joe Staley, Mike McGlinchey, Kyle Juszczyk, Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander, the latter two of whom are efforting comebacks this weekend. But San Francisco received its first fleshy season in 2019 out of Garoppolo, who came exact via legit dance partners in rookie receiver Deebo Samuel and midseason acquisition Emmanuel Sanders, and noticed Robert Saleh’s protection turn a major nook thanks to the addition of Ford, Alexander and Nick Bosa and the resurgence of Richard Sherman’s secondary. San Francisco lost exact three games in 2019, its perfect consequence since 2011, however all three defeats came on the closing ranking. If no longer for the final-2nd heroics of rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw in the Niners’ season-finale bewitch over the Seahawks, San Francisco could need lost four and been on the avenue this weekend, or worse. Yet, on your total shut games the Niners fall, they bewitch exact as many.
The Vikings know a thing or two about pulling out one-ranking victories. That’s how they received to the Divisional Round, withstanding a 2nd-half of Saints comeback in the Superdome, particular person that pushed the sport to time beyond law, and scoring on the closing play of the contest. In doing so, Minnesota pulled off the upset of Wild Card Weekend, knocking off a crimson-hot 13-3 Saints personnel that exact skipped over out on home-area attend (thanks, George Kittle). But extra importantly, the Vikings’ quarterback shed a label that hung over him and the group, that of an limitless-sport shrinker. Cousins did this by making the grab throws and taking part in turnover-free soccer, nonetheless it didn’t injury to cling a completely stacked deck for the major time in some time, with Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs all wholesome. That deck would be slice back this week, for, as of publishing, Diggs (sickness) and Thielen (ankle) are both lacking all or some of follow. To drag off a 2nd upset on the avenue over a 13-3 conference huge in as many weeks, it might per chance well probably abet to cling all Vikings aboard the ship.
The 49ers are historically winners, 5-time Extensive Bowl champions; the Vikings, pitiful losers, four-time Lombardi runner-ups. But it surely would be mercurial-witted to throw out the history books on Saturday afternoon. Toss the trophies, push aside San Francisco’s 4-1 file over Minnesota in the postseason, neglect the Vikings’ 2018 triumph. These variations of the Niners and Vikings are seemingly to be no longer what they once were, even 16 months ago.
Xavier Rhodes and Vikings’ droop protection: It’s anxious to sport-design for San Francisco’s offense, given how Shanahan schemes his receivers commence and the Niners employ multi-objective weapons love Samuel, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and all-world tight terminate George Kittle to disorient defenses. It’s doubly anxious when your formerly All-Pro cornerback is having a career-worst one year and contributors of your secondary (Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes) are dropping love flies. Rhodes has allowed an 83.8 completion share in protection this season, the 2nd-highest of any cornerback since 2015, in step with Pro Football Focus. Against Samuel and Sanders, he’s outmatched. Against Kittle, he’s toast. Minnesota will seemingly turn to its deeper linebacker corps and All-Pro-level security tandem to take care of the latter risk. Two potential suits are linebacker Eric Kendricks, who allowed a fifty three.7 comp. pct. in protection (lowest for a LB since 2010), and security Andrew Sendejo, who led the Vikes with 28 snaps final week in the slot, the place Kittle most on the total traces up. San Francisco has too many awful items to be neutralized with out issues, however neutralizing Kittle is a starting level for Minnesota, although the Rhodes are broad commence for the Niners’ unique receivers.
Jimmy Garoppolo: Lift a seat, Kirk Cousins. Your time under the harsh highlight of media scrutiny is over, or as a minimal postponed and diverted to your counterpart this weekend. Saturday will label Garoppolo’s first postseason as a starter — he won two Extensive Bowls as Tom Brady’s backup in Novel England. Whereas Garoppolo has led San Francisco to dramatic victories and shepherded the offense to this juncture — he owns the highest habitual-season worthwhile share (.808) of a QB making his first playoff initiate up — the face of the 49ers has but to face postseason stress. And on top of that, Jimmy G has to contend with the playoff legacies of Joe Montana and Steve Young, franchise quarterbacks of a long time previous, and the expectations of following of their cleat-steps. Physically, that is much less daunting than staring down Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter on any given snap. But when Garoppolo slips up on Saturday and closes out a one year in which Shanahan has earned extra credit for the offense’s improvements with a season-squandering loss, then the offseason debate about Jimmy G’s viability as an inheritor to Montana’s mantle shall be relentless.
Matchup to See
Dalvin Cook vs. 49ers entrance seven: Cousins would no longer cling the legacy-defining day he had final Sunday if no longer for the return of Cook, who grew to was the major Vikings player final week since Adrian Peterson 10 years ago to plod for over 90 yards and two touchdowns in a postseason sport. A wholesome Cook enables Cousins to cook dinner, making his lethal play-action sport ever extra so and freeing up Thielen, Diggs and Kyle Rudolph, given they’re all wholesome (and it be no longer frequently a given). Minnesota will arrangement to build up Cook going early against a Niners plod protection that lags in the assist of its droop protection in dominance. San Francisco allowed 4.5 yards per plod and 112.6 yards per sport (17th) in 2019, and exact two weeks ago let any individual named Travis Homer and the Seahawks plod for 125. For as stifling because the droop plod spearheaded by Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead is, San Fran’s plod protection is inclined, and the skill return of Ford and Alexander to the entrance seven could no longer be adequate to slack Cook and protect Minnesota off the realm.
Cousins’ “You love that!” exclamation in the Vikings’ locker room following their Superdome good-upset is the compose of galvanizing 2nd that makes media types love myself concurrently swoon and recoil, a soundbite constructed for an “The United States’s Sport” episode but to initiate up pre-production. The account oozing out of Cousins’ slack-sport heroics is the same particular person that emerged after the “Minneapolis Miracle” in January 2018 when the Vikings took out the Saints on the closing play of the sport. Right here’s a quarterback and/or a personnel of future. And but, no one recalls what came next when Minnesota traveled to play the highest seed, riding a high, and noticed its self-fulfilled prophecy tumble flat in flea-flickin’ Philadelphia. Whereas I make no longer await the Vikings to place the same-size egg in Santa Clara, I attain interrogate deja vu in all places but again, and Kurt-ains for the Minnesota melodrama.
San Francisco 49ers 27, Minnesota Vikings 16