The San Francisco 49ers continued their resurgence on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium with a 33-26 victory or the Minnesota Vikings. With the victory, San Francisco moved into the sixth seed in the NFC playoff race and find themselves only one game behind the Los Angeles Rams for the fifth position.
The win did not come without a cost, however. San Francisco lost their best offensive player, Deebo Samuel, to a groin injury and Fred Warner went down with a hamstring injury. Samuel and Warner will be evaluated this week, and the 49ers will need both healthy to keep their current momentum going.
Here are the answers to the five questions I asked on Saturday.
1. Will Jimmy Garoppolo finally figure out Mike Zimmer’s defense? YES
Jimmy Garoppolo had a rough start to the game, but his passer rating of 90.2 was by far the best he’s put together against a Mike Zimmer defense.
During the first two 49ers’ possessions the quarterback struggled with several of his throws going high including an interception by Vikings safety Harrison Smith.
After the rough start, Garoppolo was able to settle in completing 15 of his final 20 attempts of the game for 172 yards and a touchdown.
Garoppolo was particularly good on the final drive before halftime, throwing a strike to Brandon Aiyuk over the middle of the field for 24-yards to convert on 3rd and 10. Garoppolo would then hit Jauan Jennings for a three-yard touchdown to send the 49ers into the locker room tied.
The best throw from Garoppolo in the second half came late in the fourth quarter. Nursing an eight-point lead with the ball on his own 15, Garoppolo found Kyle Juszczyk over the middle for a gain of 26-yards to get the ball out to the middle of the field. This throw allowed the 49ers to drain the clock as they took 7:08 off the clock despite Robbie Gould missing the field goal attempt
2. Can the 49ers keep the run game going? YES
The 49ers offense finished up one attempt short of 40 for the third straight game, finishing with 208 yards on 39 carries. The running game continues to be a steadying force for San Francisco, allowing them to win the time of possession battle by nearly 15 minutes.
Still nursing a broken finger on his right hand, running back Elijah Mitchell showed no issues holding onto the football. The rookie once led the way for the 49ers ground attack with 133 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.
While Mitchell brought the thunder to the 49ers rushing attack, Deebo Samuel once again brought the lightning. The wide receiver once again saw the majority of his touches come on the ground, rushing for 66 yards and two touchdowns on only six carries before leaving the game late in the third quarter with a groin injury.
3. Can the 49ers defense slow down Kirk Cousins? YES
The 49ers defense struggled with Cousins early in the game. On the Vikings second possession, Cousins would find Adam Thielen down the sideline for a gain of 26-yards to set Minnesota up deep in 49ers territory. On 4th and goal Cousins would find Thielen in the back of the endzone to put the Vikings up by seven.
After a quick three and out on their next possession, Cousins was at it again driving Minnesota 80-yards to reclaim the lead. Cousins would hit all four of his attempts on the drive for 70-yards, finding Thielen in the endzone from 20-yards out for the touchdown.
One of the big moments in the contest came on Minnesota’s opening possession of the second half. After the 49ers had opened the half with a touchdown drive to take the lead for the first time in the game, Cousins would throw an interception on his first throw of the half. Cousins was trying to fit the ball in to Thielen on a short curl route, but 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair stepped in front of him and took the interception down the three-yard line. San Francisco would score on the next play to take a 14 point lead they would never relinquish.
4. Can the 49ers defense stop Dalvin Cook? Not quite
Cook came into the game averaging just under 110 total yards from scrimmage per game and kept that pace up against the 49ers. Cook would be knocked out of the game with an injury late in the third quarter, but he’d made his presence felt up to that point with 103 total yards from scrimmage.
The bulk of Cook’s yardage came as the result of his receiving. Taking advantage of a 49ers defense which has struggled at times with defending screens, Cook would pick up 64 yards on 6 receptions.
San Francisco did a pretty good job of stopping Cook on the ground. Although he would finish with 39 yards on 10 carries, 30 of those yards came on one burst in the third quarter. Two carries later, Cook would take a big hit from 49ers defensive lineman Kevin Givens and fumble the ball with San Francisco recovering deep in Minnesota territory. The hit would knock Cook out of the game as he would need to be carted off the field.
5. Can the 49ers hold on to the ball? Yes
Jimmy Garoppolo’s interception on the first possession of the game ended a stretch of eight quarters without a turnover for the 49er’s offense.
They would respond by going 75-yards on only six plays to get their first touchdown of the game.
Aside from the early turnover, the 49ers played a clean game offensively.
A big part of San Francisco dominating time of possession, especially in the first half the last two weeks has come from the lack of drops, and that trend continued today.
The 49ers had two offensive possessions take more than seven minutes off the clock, important considering the quick strike ability of the Vikings offense.
Both drives would come near the end of the halves. Trailing by seven in the second quarter, the 49ers offense would run 8:20 off the clock on an 85-yard, 15 play drive that would end with San Francisco tying the game at 14 when Garoppolo hit Jennings for a touchdown.
The second time consuming drive would come after the San Francisco defense stopped Minnesota with a goal-line stand. The 49ers would then chew 7:08 seconds off the clock during a 72-yard, 12 play drive. While it would not result in any points, this drive meant Minnesota would not get the ball back until less than two minutes remained.
Although Minnesota would quickly get to the San Francisco 40, the 49ers defense would turn the Vikings away as back-to-back incompletions from Cousins would seal the victory for San Francisco.
49ers 24 Vikings 23