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:
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).
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.