SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers’ defense got its mojo back.
San Francisco's dominating 27-10 NFC divisional-round win over the Minnesota Vikings was like a flashback to the first half of the season with three vital pieces returning to the line up -- Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Jaquiski Tartt.
Even to an amateur eye, the defense looked faster. Prior to their final two drives, the Vikings were held to only four first downs and under 100 yards of total offense. According to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers pressured quarterback Kirk Cousins on 17 of his 35 dropbacks.
After the game, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was glowing in the locker room with an ear-to-ear smile.
“Yeah, they are pretty good,” Saleh said of the pass rush. “Dee unlocks everything so getting him back was big time for us.”
The speed that the defense showed early in the season returned against the Vikings. It was a product of not only getting key players back but having extra time off for everyone to get healthy and refreshed.
“Oh yeah,” Saleh said. “It felt very fast. To get the bye week last week was enormous. So now they got to get fresh again and do it again next week. Any extra day helps.”
Five different 49ers defensive linemen were responsible for six sacks and nine quarterback hits against Cousins and the Vikings. Fred Warner thinks the defense has the ability to be even more stout.
“You see how it is when we got all our pieces out there -- how it looks,” the linebacker said. “I think it’s honestly just a start. I think we could have even been better today. Man, I feel like I didn't even have to play a game honestly.
“We ran a lot of man coverage on third down, let the big boys up front go eat. I'd be in man coverage, hear cheering. They did outstanding upfront. It was a huge team win all around.”
Nick Bosa, who was responsible for two sacks, three quarterback hits, two tackles for a loss and one pass break up noted the difference in the speed at which they were able to perform.
“Yeah, the whole vibe, the whole energy, it's just different,” Bosa said. “Has other teams just trying to find answers. But, yeah, I mean, just having Dee is a huge boost for the D-Line.”
DeForest Buckner also benefitted from Ford's return, registering one sack, one quarterback hit and two tackles for a loss.
“Dee's speed off the edge is one of a kind,” Buckner said. “It really opens up more opportunity for the guys in the inside, also for Nick on the opposite side. They can't pick and choose every time on where they want to slide the protection or who they want to double. They have to change it up. It's very challenging when you have four guys that can rush the passer.”
The 49ers came away from Saturday’s win without any new injuries and look to have the same lineup available when they face the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game next Sunday at Levi's Stadium.