Gritty Home Win

Gritty Home Win

Playoff Football is typically gritty football. Teams must bring their best to the field each play for 60 minutes. Mistakes lead to a loss. Consistent execution leads to a win. The pundits and analysts billed this week’s game as a playoff game given the current seeding of the 49ers and the Vikings. Both clubs were 5-5. Both clubs have something to prove. Both clubs have failed to consistently perform up to their potential. Given their records up against the rest of the NFC, both were well positioned for wildcard spots in the playoff. The winner of this game is building towards a run on the playoffs. The loser suffers another disappointing defeat and drops below .500.

At the end of the first half, the score showed the Niners, and Vikings were on equal footing. The score was 14 to 14. The 49ers had just brought the score to even right before the half on the strength of a 15 play, 85-yard drive that gobbled up eight minutes and 20 seconds. That isn’t how the Niners started the game though. After the 49er defense forced a quick three and out, Jimmy Garoppolo started making mistakes right away. The first play started as you might expect Elijah Mitchel off of the left tackle for four yards. Then Jimmy G threw a high ball. Ok…well, get that one out of your system, right? Then he throws a 21-yard strike to Juan Jennings. The ball was a bit high, but Jennings is also 6’3 with vice grip hands. No issue. The next three plays were a mix of a disappointing off target pass, false start and a 3 yard run. Then, Jimmy G threw another off target pass right into the hands of Harrison Smith, which the Vikings eventually turned into a touchdown. The Niners are down 7.

Coach Kyle Shanahan was hot after that turnover. He was really hot. He was so hot he made a point to go get into Jimmy G’s grill and let him know how hot he was. I must say that woodshed rant must have got Jimmy G’s attention because he was pretty sharp the rest of the game finishing up with 230 yards thru the air, connecting 17 of 26 passes and scoring a touchdown. Notably he hit nine receivers and his go to guy was Elijah Mitchel on the check down for 5 connections. After the Vikings scored their first touchdown, the Niners offense put together a 6 play 75-yard touchdown drive ending with a slashing 20-yard run by Deebo Samuel. All even stevens. Both squads traded punts before the Vikings scored their second touchdown of the half. Then both squads traded punts again before the Niners epic eight-minute touchdown drive to close out the half. This is the third week in a row the Niners sustain a touchdown drive of eight minutes or more.

The game had fans at the edge of their seat. Yet, there was little to be concerned about. The 49ers premier offensive playmakers were dressed up and on the field. The defense was as healthy as it’s ever been. The Niners just needed to play fundamental football and things would break their way.

In close games, the first possession of the third quarter matters because it sets the tone for the rest of the game. The 49ers knew that. They started the 3rd quarter with a 75-yard drive culminating with a Deebo 3-yard touchdown run, his second one of the game! Then the Niners forced an interception the very next play. Azeez Al-Shaair executed a textbook drop to his hook to curl zone and mirrored Adam Thielen in his zone collecting his 2nd interception of the season. The 49ers promptly scored one play and two yards later. Up 28 to 14, the 49ers had a comfortable lead, but the Vikings were not out of it yet. They marched right back down the field and scored a touchdown that was answered by a 49er field goal. Then, the Vikings stole the momentum by running the kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown. The Niners heads were spinning. The offense wasn’t ready to hit the field again and were forced into a three and out.

Turnovers are the story of this game. Turnovers are the difference in this game. During the Vikings first play of their next drive Kevin Givens burst thru the A gap and tackled Dalvin Cook well behind the line of scrimmage forcing a fumble that was collected by Al-Shaair. That play was horrible for the Vikings because not only did they suffer another key turnover, but they may have lost Cook for a significant amount of time this season. The 49ers bled some more clock and kicked a field goal. To add insult to injury there was a time out taken right before the fourth down play before the Vikings turnover. Why? Because Kirk Cousins lined up under the left guard instead of under center. This drastic mistake would come back to haunt them.

Still, the Vikings were not out of it. The Vikings put together a 12 play 72-yard drive. Unfortunately, it ended in no points. The 49er defense stood tall and forced a turnover on downs when the Vikings failed to convert on a fourth and three.

Once again, the 49ers put together another one of their famed clock draining drives moving the football 72 yards in seven minutes. When they got the ball, there was only nine minutes left on the clock. The Niners failed to turn their good fortune into points.

So, its two minutes to go, Kirk Cousins gets the ball and an opportunity to drive the field and tie the game if they can manage a touchdown and a two-point conversion. 49ers fans weren’t worried. Its Kirk Cousins. This is the guy that lost their final timeout of the game because he couldn’t line up under the right offensive lineman. The 49ers defense forced all the receivers to catch and go down in-bounds eventually forcing a 4th and eight yards which the Vikings failed to convert. That’s it. That’s the game.

There are a couple of unsung heroes in this game. Second year receiver Juan Jennings played a great role catching one touchdown and almost collecting another. It wasn’t just his touchdown catch that made him important to Sunday’s game. He blocked his ass off on Sunday. He led the way for a Deebo Samuel touchdown on one play. He led block several of Elijah Mitchell’s break out runs. He also caught a first down conversion. He is really growing into a reliable option at receiver. We already discussed Al-Shaair’s interception and fumble recovery. George Kittle was key in his role as a blocker. Charlie Woerner also had a key 1st down conversion as well.

The big names did their thang to. Elijah Mitchell is the first 49ers rookie to secure four 100-yard games. Deebo ran for 66 yards and two touchdowns on six carries. Brandon Aiyuk quietly caught 3 balls for 91 yards. Finally, Nick Bosa collected his 11th sack of the season.

Sunday afternoon’s game was gritty and close from start to finish. Yet, it’s the kind of football game that the 49ers can build off of. They are on a three-game winning streak. They have one big the last two weeks. They had to win close this week. Lastly it is a gritty win at home. You might not think that is much, but this is only the second home win in Levi’s this year. It’s important. A game like this is an immense confidence booster as they head into the final six games of the season. On to Seattle!

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