49ers

49ers takeaways: What we learned in 27-10 NFL playoff win vs. Vikings

49ers takeaways: What we learned in 27-10 NFL playoff win vs. Vikings

BOX SCORE

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers earned a bye for the first round of the NFL playoffs. And they took full advantage of all the benefits.

The 49ers came out enthusiastic, energized, healthy and focused, and coach Kyle Shanahan’s team easily took care of the Minnesota Vikings with a 27-10 victory Saturday at Levi’s Stadium to advance to next week’s NFC Championship Game.

The 49ers imposed their will on the Vikings. They delivered a suffocating defensive performance, and combined it with a running attack that completely crushed Minnesota’s soul.

The 49ers will host the Seattle Seahawks-Green Bay Packers winner next Sunday with a trip to Super Bowl LIV on the line.

Here's what you need to know about the 49ers’ impressive performance in their divisional-round playoff win:

Dee-fense unlocked

Robert Saleh said Dee Ford is the key to the 49ers' defense because he “unlocks” the pass rush. What the defensive coordinator meant is that having Ford’s presence gives the 49ers another threat off the edge, so it opens things up for defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead.

It showed Saturday.

Ford returned to action after playing just four snaps over the final six regular-season games. And the entire group looked to benefit. Bosa registered two sacks. Ford, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner each registered a sack of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Solomon Thomas also picked up a sack in the final minutes.

Cousins completed 21 of 29 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown with one interception.

It started with the 49ers’ run defense to set up third-down situations. The 49ers completely shut down Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who was held to just 18 yards rushing on nine carries and came up with 8 yards on six receptions.

Running all over 'em

Shanahan often speaks about his goal of having balance between the running and passing games. But, he says, he'll always call plays that he believes will give the 49ers the best chance to win.

On Saturday, that consisted of a steady diet of runs that seemed to take all the air out of the Vikings’ sails.

The key sequence of the game came in the third quarter, after Richard Sherman picked off a Cousins pass.

Shanahan dialed up eight consecutive running plays. Tevin Coleman had runs of 4, 6 and 6 yards. Raheem Mostert then entered the game and picked up 7, 4 and 4 yards. Coleman re-entered and tore off an 11-yard run to set up his 2-yard touchdown.

It was Coleman’s second 2-yard TD of the game. He finished with 105 yards and two scores on 22 carries.

As a team, the 49ers rushed the ball 47 times for 186 yards (4.0 average).

[RELATED: Jimmy G lays out Vikings' Barr on pancake block]

Permanent switch at cornerback?

The 49ers gave Ahkello Witherspoon one more opportunity, but they did not show much patience.

Before the first quarter was over, the 49ers switched to Emmanuel Moseley at right cornerback. And it appears Moseley has a good opportunity to move into the starting role on a long-term basis.

After insisting that Witherspoon did not play poorly in Week 17 against the Seattle Seahawks, Shanahan and Saleh decided to remain with Witherspoon to open against the Vikings. They had benched Witherspoon for the final drive against the Seahawks.

But the leash was short this time. Witherspoon was called for pass interference against Stefon Diggs. He also gave up a 12-yard pass to Adam Thielen on third-and-2, then was beaten by Diggs for a 41-yard TD on the Vikings’ second drive of the game.

Moseley entered the game for the next series and finished it out.

Why NFL history, Aaron Rodgers' past bode well for 49ers vs. Packers

Why NFL history, Aaron Rodgers' past bode well for 49ers vs. Packers

If the Green Bay Packers are going to upset the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Levi's Stadium, they're going to have to do it without history on their side.

It has been less than two months since the 8-2 Packers waltzed into Levi's Stadium hoping to knock off the conference-leading 49ers on "Sunday Night Football" in Week 12. By halftime -- if not much earlier -- it was readily apparent no such event would occur, as San Francisco raced out to a 23-0 lead on its way to a 37-8 win. It was a thoroughly dominant performance by the 49ers, and resulted in Green Bay's most lopsided defeat of the season.

The Packers haven't lost since, winning their final five games of the regular season to earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. They held on to beat the visiting Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round, but historically speaking, all that momentum might not mean much as it pertains to a rematch with San Francisco. As NFL.com's Chris Wesseling noted, the last 13 playoff teams to lose a regular-season game by at least 20 points have also lost the postseason rematch against the same opponent.

Now, obviously, not all teams are created equal, and in a sport where quarterback is the most critical position, one might argue that the Packers have a significant advantage over those previous 13 teams that have occupied the same space they will Sunday.

That wouldn't necessarily be accurate, though.

Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers will go down as one of the best QBs of all-time, and while he has put together several memorable postseason performances, he has not had much playoff success against teams he previously lost to that same season. In fact, the last five times he and the Packers qualified for the playoffs, they were eliminated by a team that had beaten them earlier that season.

[RELATED: Beathard gets 49ers scout-team honors for imitating Rodgers]

That obviously bodes well for San Francisco, and that's before even digging into the specific head-to-head matchup between Rodgers and the 49ers' top-ranked pass defense. Throughout his career, Rodgers has faced the No. 1-ranked pass defense a total of five times; he has not fared well in those matchups, and has never won one on the road.

There's a reason why the 49ers were the NFC's No. 1 seed, and there are plenty more as to why San Francisco is favored by more than a touchdown over Green Bay on Sunday. The Packers are going to have to overcome plenty to prove victorious, and you can add NFL history to the list.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 6:30 p.m.

Richard Sherman recalls interception in 49ers-Seahawks NFC title game

Richard Sherman recalls interception in 49ers-Seahawks NFC title game

Not all nostalgia is good nostalgia.

The last time San Francisco advanced to the NFC Championship Game, the game was ended on an interception from then-Seattle Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith.

The man who deflected the pass to Smith -- cornerback Richard Sherman -- now wears a 49ers uniform. But he can recall, in vivid detail, one of the most heartbreaking moments young 49ers fans have experienced. One he was the architect of during his reign as the leader of the infamous “Legion of Boom.”

As receiver Michael Crabtree broke out of his route, Sherman wasn’t going to bite on any short routes from the 49ers’ then-No. 1 receiver.

“As he stuttered, I’m thinking to myself, ‘There’s no reason to stutter,’” Sherman told The Athletic’s Matt Barrows. “‘You’re not running a hitch. You’re not in a position to run a hitch. That’s not the play y’all need.’”

Despite losing the ball in the bright lights of Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, Sherman still managed to make a game-defining play.

“The ball comes in, and then it comes right out of the lights,” Sherman recalled. “And now I’m blinded from looking at the light, so I can’t see it. But I’m dialed into where it should be. And I’m just starting to refocus back and I’m going up to get it.”

[RELATED: 49ers list no injuries ahead of NFC title game vs. Packers]

Sherman managed to get a hand on the ball and bat it away from Crabtree and into the arms of Smith, sending the 49ers home and the Seahawks to Super Bowl XLVIII. 

Sunday gives Sherman another chance to help send a team to the Super Bowl, as he and the 49ers play host to the Green Bay Packers with a trip to Miami on the line.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 6:30 p.m.