SANTA CLARA -- The game had playoff implications. And, fittingly, it had a playoff feel to it.
The 49ers took another major step forward with a 34-26 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in a hard-fought game Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
The 49ers won for the third consecutive time and improved to 6-5 on the season. They moved into the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff picture with six games remaining.
The Vikings fell to 5-6 on the season.
Rookie running back Elijah Mitchell exempted the 49ers’ toughness.
He returned to action on Sunday after missing one game due to a fractured right middle finger.
Mitchell gained 133 yards and one touchdown on 27 rushing attempts. He also caught five passes for 35 yards.
Here are three takeaways from the crucial Week 12 game:
Deebo does it as a runner
A week ago, wide receiver Deebo Samuel said he did not want the 49ers’ coaching staff to get any ideas about using him too much as a running back.
But Samuel has been too successful as a runner for the 49ers to scrap that whole idea.
Samuel had a big day going before he left late in the third quarter with a groin injury. He had six carries for 66 yards and two touchdowns.
Samuel entered the game with 994 yards receiving. He caught just one pass for 12 yards.
In the first quarter, Samuel scored a rushing touchdown for the third consecutive game.
He accelerated around right end in the first quarter to score on a 20-yard touchdown to cap a six-play, 75-yard drive.
Then, he gave the 49ers’ a 21-14 lead early in the third quarter with his running, too.
Samuel picked up 49 yards on a running play to set up his own 3-yard touchdown run for a 21-14 lead.
Samuel finally caught a pass, hauling in a 12-yard reception to go over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He became the 49ers’ first wide receiver to have more than 1,000 yards receiving since Anquan Boldin in 2014.
However, Samuel injured his groin late in the third quarter and did not return.
Defense turns the tide
Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league.
He had 23 touchdown passes and just two interceptions before 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair stepped in front of Thielen for the interception, which came on the first play after the 49ers took a 21-14 lead.
Al-Shaair returned the interception 24 yards to the Vikings’ 2-yard line. One play later, Elijah Mitchell scored on a running play to give the 49ers a 14-point lead.
The 49ers’ takeaway came during a stretch of the game from midway in the second quarter to early in the third quarter when they scored 21 points while the Vikings held the ball for just 36 seconds.
Cousins finished with 20 completions on 32 attempts for 238 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
The Vikings failed on a fourth-and-goal play from the 49ers’ 3-yard line on Cousins’ incomplete pass out the back of the end zone.
Minnesota was forced to call a timeout before the play when Cousins inadvertently lined up behind the right guard instead of center Garrett Bradbury.
Garoppolo gives it up early
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo did a good job in the previous four games of avoiding giveaways.
But he presented the Vikings with an early scoring opportunity when he threw an interception to end the 49ers’ first drive of the game.
Ultimately, Garoppolo again did enough to win, as he completed 17 of 26 pass attempts for 230 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Brandon Aiyuk was on the other end of Garoppolo’s biggest plays, as he caught three passes for 91 yards.
Garoppolo tried to fit a third-down pass into wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the middle of the field. But Vikings safety Harrison Smith read the route perfectly and stepped in front of Samuel for the interception.
The Vikings took advantage of the good field position with an eight-play, 49-yard drive that was capped by Kirk Cousins’ 2-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen on fourth down.
Garoppolo had his ups and downs, but he ended the first half on a high note.
The 49ers put together a perfectly executed 15-play, 85-yard drive that ended with Garoppolo’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings. The drive lasted 8 minutes, 20 seconds.
The Vikings held the ball for the final 18 seconds of the first half