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5 Takeaways: Vikings Doomed by Turnovers, Lack of Possession in Playoff Loss

SANTA CLARA, Calif. It's hard to win when you don't possess the ball.

The Vikings relied all season on keeping the ball, churning the clock and wearing teams down.

But that's exactly what the 49ers did on Saturday at Levi's Stadium, where Minnesota's season ended with a 27-10 loss to San Francisco.

The Vikings possessed the ball for just 21 minutes and 33 seconds, compared to 38:27 for the 49ers.

At one point, the 49ers ran the ball eight straight times — every single play — on a possession that ended with a 2-yard rushing touchdown. The drive went 44 yards and took up 4:54 of game clock.

Minnesota then got the ball and went three-and-out on offense, burning up just 88 seconds off the scoreboard.

San Francisco ranked sixth in the NFL in time of possession in the regular season at 31:18. San Francisco had exactly that amount with more than 14 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Vikings had 11 total offensive possessions, six of which were done after just three plays.

Here are four more takeaways from Saturday's season-ending loss:

1. Vikings lose points-off-turnover battle

The Vikings and 49ers tied in the turnover margin, but Minnesota might as well have lost it. The Vikings certainly didn't win the points-off-turnover battle on Saturday.

San Francisco scored 10 points off two Vikings turnovers, while the Vikings managed a field goal after an interception. Minnesota evened the takeaway battle late with a fumble forced and recovered by Anthony Barr, but only 1:45 remained.

Kirk Cousins was intercepted by Richard Sherman a little more than midway through the third quarter, and the 49ers promptly scored.

Marcus Sherels later muffed a punt deep in Vikings territory, which led to a San Francisco field goal.

Eric Kendricks picked off Jimmy Garoppolo late in the second quarter and set the Vikings up at the 49ers 29-yard line. But trailing 14-7, Minnesota only managed a field goal.

The Vikings nearly had a game-changing play early in the second quarter when Kendricks forced a fumble by Deebo Samuel that Harrison Smith recovered at the Vikings 35.

But the officials reviewed the play and determined Samuel's knee was down before the ball came out. Instead of getting possession in a 7-7 game, the Vikings then allowed a 49ers touchdown.

2. Lack of efficiency on 3rd downs

A week after dominating the Saints on third downs, the Vikings couldn't replicate the same success against the 49ers.

Minnesota's offense converted just twice on 11 attempts, which was the Vikings worst performance of the season. Cousins was sacked three times on the down.

Conversely, the 49ers converted five times on 12 third downs (42 percent). That was aided by a first half in which San Francisco converted three of its four chances on third downs.

Garoppolo avoided pressure on multiple third-down passes and found receivers for tough catches to move the chains.

3. Too tough of a road

The goal of each team is to win its division and have at least one home playoff game. Minnesota made the playoffs in 2019, but were a Wild Card squad and faced a daunting task as the No. 6 seed.

And while the Vikings shocked the Saints in the Wild Card round, they fell short on the road against the top-seeded 49ers. Minnesota's past two playoff runs have now ended on the road at the No. 1 seed — against Philadelphia in January of 2018, and against San Francisco on Saturday.

The Vikings were also unable to get two playoff wins in the postseason, something that hasn't happened since the 1987 Vikings won in New Orleans and in San Francisco.

The last time a No. 6 seed in the NFC made it to the conference championship game was Green Bay in January of 2011.

4. Vikings special teams has highs and lows — Lindsey Young

The Vikings day on special teams can be described as up-and-down, to say the least.

Punter Britton Colquitt averaged 48.3 yards per boot on six punts to create more positive field position for Minnesota, and kicker Dan Bailey made his one field goal attempt of the afternoon, a 39-yarder just before halftime.

Vikings running back Ameer Abdullah was impressive on kickoff returns, racking up 148 yards on five returns for a 29.6-yard average.

Except for a 19-yard return by Richie James, Jr., Minnesota covered kickoff and punt returns by San Francisco fairly well, but a 15-yard penalty called on Holton Hill for unnecessary roughness to open the third quarter gave the Niners more favorable field position on a drive that ended with a 35-yard field goal.

The biggest special teams blunder occurred late in the third quarter, when normally short-handed punt returner Marcus Sherels – whom the Vikings re-signed the week of the Wild Card game – muffed a return that was then recovered by 49ers running back Raheem Mostert at the Minnesota 10. Sherels had bobbled a punt return earlier in the game but didn't lose control.