SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Jimmy Garoppolo threw a TD pass on his opening drive as a playoff starter and then watched San Francisco’s defense and running game take over from there in the 49ers’ 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC playoffs Saturday.
The Niners’ first playoff game in six seasons — and first ever at Levi’s Stadium — turned into a lopsided one as top-seeded San Francisco turned a pair of second-half turnovers by Minnesota into 10 points.
With the victory, the 49ers advanced to next Sunday’s NFC Championship game, with the winner going on to play in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2.
The Niners, the NFC’s No. 1 seed, will play host to either Green Bay or Seattle, who play Sunday at 6:40 p.m.
Richard Sherman set up Tevin Coleman’s second short touchdown run of the game with an interception against Kirk Cousins and Marcus Sherels’s fumbled punt led to a field goal that made it 27-10 early in the fourth quarter.
“Those guys [on the offensive line] did very well,” Coleman said. “They moved the guys back so I had clear holes to run through.”
San Francisco had six sacks and held Minnesota to 147 yards for the game with a large chunk coming on two late garbage-time drives.
Starting late in the second quarter, San Francisco didn’t allow Minnesota to gain a first down for more than 27 minutes of game action.
Garoppolo threw an interception deep in his own territory late in the first half and then spent most of the second half handing the ball off to Coleman (22 carries, 105 yards) and Raheem Mostert (12 carries, 58 yards).
There was little reason for coach Kyle Shanahan to take chances the way his defense completely bottled up talented runner Dalvin Cook. That took away Minnesota’s play-action game and forced Cousins into becoming a drop-back passer.
“That was the No. 1 emphasis all week,” defensive lineman Nick Bosa said of the Minnesota running game. “We knew we were facing probably the best back we've faced all year with Dalvin, and we knew we had to earn the right to pass rush. So, that’s what we did. We took the run as serious as we could, shut it down and then we ate.”
Cousins finished 21 for 29 for 172 yards with his only big play coming on a 41-yard TD pass to Stefon Diggs in the first quarter.
Cook was held to 18 yards on nine carries as the Niners defense was back to its dominant early season form thanks in part to the return from injuries of defensive end Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander, and safety Jaquiski Tartt.
“It was huge to have those guys back,” defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. “They’re leaders on our team, talented players, they make big plays for us. We were missing some pieces out there, but to get those guys back, we hit back on all cylinders.”
Eric Kendricks intercepted a pass from Garoppolo late in the first half to give the Vikings the ball at the San Francisco 29. Minnesota couldn’t capitalize with Ford getting a third-down sack in his return from a hamstring injury.
Dan Bailey’s 39-yard field goal cut the Niners’ lead to 14-10 at the half. The interception was the 19th turnover this season by Garoppolo, who had the most giveaways in the regular season of any player who made the playoffs.
Garoppolo showed he has skills beyond his throwing. He threw a lead block on 255-pound linebacker Anthony Barr on a reverse by Deebo Samuel in the second quarter. Samuel fumbled the ball on the play but replay ruled his knee was down, negating the turnover. That proved especially important when Coleman capped the drive with a 1-yard TD run.
The Vikings scored on their second drive of the game when Diggs outmaneuvered Ahkello Witherspoon for a 41-yard TD catch. It was the fifth TD pass allowed by Witherspoon in the past three games and he was replaced at cornerback the following drive by Emmanuel Moseley.
Vikings tackle Brian O'Neill left with a head injury after a blindside block from Nick Bosa in the third quarter following Cousins’s interception. For the Niners, Mostert (calf) and linebacker Mark Nzeocha (stinger) left the game in the second half.