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When the Vikings got on the plane to fly back to the Twin Cities after their divisional round game against the 49ers, they left a few things behind in San Francisco—their heart, their season, their jocks and . . . well, you get it. They got whipped by a 49ers team that was better than them in every facet of the game. As a result, a 27-10 San Francisco win, the Niners host the NFC Championship next week while the Vikings clean out their lockers.

The 49ers were the better team and very deserving of their No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Niners defense made the Vikings offense pedestrian at best, shutting down the run and keeping Kirk Cousins so off balance, that the passing game never got going.

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On defense, the Purple had a chance with a nervous Jimmy Garoppolo early, but his receivers kept pulling in poorly thrown passes, while the Niners running game kept gashing a porous Vikings defense and gradually wore them down and put the game out of reach.

The Vikings season ended just six days after its highest point of the year last week in New Orleans, and now they are left to start the soul-searching, the retooling and (likely from the media and the fans) the questions. The offseason begins now and it just got a little longer than expected—and there is much more work to do than we had thought there would be just a week ago.

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Kirk Cousins had good numbers in the first half (10 of 12 for 81 yards and touchdown pass for a 122.6 rating), but it was good enough in the scoring department (they trained 14-10 at intermission). The one pass thrown downfield was successful for a score, but such attempts were too few and far between. In the second half, he started with a throw that might have been going to a spot where he thought Adam Thielen was supposed to be but instead it went into Richard Sherman’s hands for a pick. Things went down from that point (as did Cousins numbers 21 of 29 for 172 yards and a 84.3 rating). While Cousins was not helped by his offensive line, his inability to get out of a collapsing pocket, a few bad throws and some questionable decisions don’t leave him blameless.

Stefon Diggs was ill this week, missing several practices, but he showed no ill effects in the game early. Diggs made a great play to take Cousins pass for a 41-yard score. But that was basically all there was to the Vikings offense. It was a spark early that tied the game, but things on offense fizzled shortly thereafter.

It’s great to have Eric Kendricks back on the field and healthy. The All Pro is essential to the Vikings defense. He was involved in a fumble that was called down by contact and later made a very difficult interception right before half that led to a Dan Bailey field goal. Kendricks, despite the quad injury, was all over the field, as usual. He finished the game with eight tackles and two passes defending, and remains one of the bright spots on this very dark night.

Worth Defending

The defense got beatat the point of attack on Sunday. They were manhandled at the line and the Niners’ three-headed rushing attack gashed them all afternoon. The Niners rushed the ball for 187 yards and two scores, and the Vikings never put up much of a fight. The Vikings will need to retool some more on defense (they came in shorthanded in the secondary, but the entire squad looked bad in this one)—all across the board.

The offensive line had their hands full with Niners’ defensive line all afternoon. After a dominating performance last week against the Saints, they faced an even formidable front that cause problems for the both the running and passing games of the Vikings. Cousins was hit nine times and sacked six of them, the rushing game provided 21 yards and the offense put up only seven first downs in the game. By the fourth quarter when the game was well over, they could hardly block them at all. The offensive line will get better next year with a year of experience, but it has to be a priority (once again) in the offseason.

Special teams hurt the team today, even though the damage was already done by the time Marcus Sherels muffed a punt (and earlier fumbled one he recovered) that turned the game into a three-score game with a quarter to go. But it came after a nice defensive stand and when the Vikings had a little more and a last chance to turn things around. It was the dagger that really put the final straw into the coffin, to mix a bunch of metaphors.

Should be Ending

Bad tackling. The Vikings defense started slow in the game, and their tackling was part of it. Often they had play defended, but couldn’t the ball carrier to the ground.

Fields goals after turnovers. Eric Kendricks put the Vikings in the drivers seat right before half with an incredible pick deep in Niners territory. After a quick first down, the drive faltered and the Vikings settled for three. The points are a gift, but the Vikings need to turn those gifts into touchdowns to win games in the playoffs.

When two players are tangled up blocking on a kickoff and fall out of bounds together wrestling with each other, that is not a penalty . . . on either player. When they fall to the ground together and one player winds up on top, he looks like the aggressor, when the aggression was equal. Bad call that went to the Niners at the start of the second half and led to a field goal.

More games like these. Enough said.

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