How Dee Ford's return changed 49ers' defense in playoff win vs. Vikings

How Dee Ford's return changed 49ers' defense in playoff win vs. Vikings

SANTA CLARA -- Nick Bosa was lined up wide right on the 49ers' defensive line, with Dee Ford standing over a guard on his inside shoulder.

That alignment said something to the Minnesota Vikings on a third-and-11 late in the second quarter.

Good freakin' luck.

Bosa whipped around his man off the edge, forcing Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to step up in the pocket. Ford was there to meet him after working a slower guard. He slammed Cousins to the turf, collecting one of the team’s six sacks in Saturday’s 27-10 playoff victory over the Vikings at Levi’s Stadium.

It was clear to Bosa in that moment how much Ford impacts this 49ers defense, and how much they missed him during a seven-week bout with a balky hamstring. 

“I told Dee, ‘I wish I could scare people with my presence like you do,’ ” Bosa said. "I mean, when a guard sees Dee Ford on them, their mind is racing, they're thinking about what he's about to do, whatever it is. Just having his presence and his pass-rush ability, his knowledge and communication, he's a true vet. It's nice to have him out there.”

It was an emotional moment for Ford, who returned to the lineup after missing all but four snaps in the past six games.

“This year has been really challenging for me from an injury standpoint,” Ford said. “I was glad to be on the field, not the bench. It was a good feeling to preserve and be out there helping my team in such a big game.”

Ford’s availability wasn’t secure until pre-game warm-ups. The 49ers were cautious with his hamstring, especially after he returned too early a Week 14 contest in New Orleans and aggravated the issue.

Ford said he felt far better Saturday than he did against the Saints, when he might have pushed a little too hard get back in the lineup.

“It was the beginning of a big stretch for the team and I was trying to push through it,” Ford said. “I wasn’t really honest then about how I was feeling. At the end of the day, it is what it is and I had a setback. Hamstrings are tricky. We have a great training staff. We worked really hard rehabbing, and now we’re here.”

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was worried that his ferocious speed rusher would suffer another setback against Minnesota, but his Ford-related stress melted away after the first-half passed without incident.

Ford was active and engaged as he was before the injury, primarily working on obvious passing downs.

His impact in those moments was profound. It wasn’t just felt by Bosa, who also had a sack when he and Ford rushed in tandem. The entire defensive front feels a difference when Ford’s unique talents are on display.

“Dee's speed off the edge is one of a kind,” defensive tackle DeForest 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.”

[RELATED: 49ers' run game bullied Vikings]

Ford didn’t want too much credit for a dominant performance by the defensive front. Despite the line clearly being blocked differently with him in the mix, Ford shifted the spotlight to the entire position group for creating havoc as a whole.

“It really doesn’t matter if I’m next to Bosa or Buckner or Armstead. We all understand what we have to do,” Ford said. “We scare everybody. We work together, and that’s how we get to the quarterback. It’s not just one guy.”

Chiefs vs. Titans live stream: How to watch AFC Championship online, on TV

Chiefs vs. Titans live stream: How to watch AFC Championship online, on TV

It's been a long year for the Kansas City Chiefs and the fans that cheer them on each week.

Last year, the team couldn't make it to the big game, and they're praying history doesn't repeat itself when they take on the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.

They'll have their work cut out for them having to face Derrick Henry. In the regular season, the running back averaged 102.7 yards per game with 18 total touchdowns. 

The Titans' run game could play a huge role in the possible success of the team.

The Chiefs, however, come into the matchup amidst a seven-game winning streak and are the favorites to advance to the Super Bowl against either the Green Bay Packers or the 49ers.

The Niners host the Packers Sunday for the NFC title game in a matchup that will have Jimmy Garoppolo facing someone he used to root for in college.

An old tweet resurfaced of Jimmy G cheering on Aaron Rodgers years ago in an NFC-division game that added to a warm-fuzzy storyline feeling. And the 49ers will do it with an advantage of no additional injuries heading into the game.

[RELATED: How Jimmy G compared self to Rodgers before draft]

Two of these four teams will head to Miami for Super Bowl LIV.

Here's how you can watch Sunday's AFC Championship matchup as the Chiefs host the Titans:

Start time: Sunday, Jan. 19, at 12:05 p.m. PT
TV Channel: CBS
Live StreamfuboTV -- Get a free trial

49ers vs. Packers live stream: How to watch NFL playoff game online, on TV


49ers vs. Packers live stream: How to watch NFL playoff game online, on TV

The 49ers have a golden opportunity to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 2013.

With a win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Levi's Stadium, the 49ers would head to Miami for Super Bowl LIV to take on the winner of the Tennesee Titans-Kansas City Chiefs AFC Championship Game.

San Francisco opened as seven-point favorites, but that number has risen to -7.5 in recent days.

Injuries hampered the 49ers for most of the season, but they will enter the game against the Packers with a clean bill of health. Similarly, the Packers only have one player listed on their injury report.

Back in Week 12, the 49ers thrashed the Packers, 37-8, in Santa Clara. But no one is expecting San Francisco to cakewalk over Green Bay this time.

In that Nov. 24 matchup, vaunted 49ers defense held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to 198 yards of total offense. Rodgers completed 20 of 33 passes for just 104 yards. San Francisco will need another performance like that in order to play on Sunday, Feb. 2 in sunny Florida.

[RELATED: Five 49ers to watch vs. Packers]

Here's how to watch the 49ers-Packers NFC Championship Game:

When: Sunday, Jan. 19 at 6:40 p.m. ET/3:40 p.m. PT
Stream: Fox Sports; fuboTV -- Get a free trial

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (6 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday)

Also tune in 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.