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.”

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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.”