SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Vikings knew they were going to have to play on other teams' turfs, but Saturday's loss also was on the 49ers terms.
A second consecutive road upset wasn't in the cards for the Vikings, whose season ended via a 27-10 loss to the 49ers on Saturday at San Francisco.
Instead of building momentum from a walk-off overtime win in New Orleans by continuing to elevate execution, which is key to advancing through the playoffs, the No. 6 seed Vikings never were able to establish control against the NFC's top-seeded team.
Minnesota has not won consecutive games in the same postseason since January 1988 (at New Orleans and San Francisco).
View pregame images as the Vikings get set to take on the 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Saturday.
Pre-game questions: How would similar-minded offenses fare? Which defense would be able to affect the opponent's passer better?
Both teams benefited from balanced offense and creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks throughout the season.
San Francisco was able to create an imbalance in Minnesota's offense, putting the Vikings in must-pass situations.
The 49ers won an overwhelming majority of the game up front on both sides of the ball, forcing an immediate three-and-punt by Minnesota, getting good starting field position (own 39-yard line) and following with a crisp, eight-play, 61-yard touchdown drive.
San Francisco came out firing, with Jimmy Garoppolo hitting on five of his first six career postseason passes and accounting for 57 yards of a drive on which the 49ers never faced a third down, which kept the Vikings from creating pressure early.
The Vikings answered with a touchdown dive of their own thanks to Stefon Diggs' adjustment on a deep pass from Kirk Cousins to beat 1-on-1 coverage by Ahkello Witherspoon.
The 49ers were able to improve their field position, then pin the Vikings at their own 12 with a punt. A sack of Cousins followed and forced another three-and-punt. San Francisco got the ball back at its own 47 and drove 53 yards in 10 plays for a 14-7 lead.
An interception by Eric Kendricks gave Minnesota the ball at the San Francisco 29-yard line with 2:41 left in the first half, but three plays from the 16 resulted in a loss of 1 by Dalvin Cook, an incompletion on an out route to Stefon Diggs and a sack for a loss of 4.
Dan Bailey booted a 39-yard field goal just before the break, but it was a disappointing sequence.
The third quarter was even worse for Minnesota.
San Francisco scored a field goal on its opening drive, then intercepted Cousins three plays later.
Eight plays — all runs — easily gained the 44 yards for another seven points and a 24-10 lead.
The 49ers nearly had as many rush attempts as their nickname, pounding the rock for 186 yards on 47 attempts. San Francisco gained 12 first downs on rushes and had 12 runs of at least 4 yards in the third quarter.
The Vikings ran the ball 10 total times for 21 yards and didn't move the chains with a gain on the ground once.
As for the defenses, San Francisco's front created pressure on Cousins throughout the game, sacking him six times. Sometimes aggressive teams can be hit with screens, but that wasn't the case Saturday.
Garoppolo was only sacked twice. He finished 11-for-19 for 131 yards and a passer rating 74.7 because the Vikings were unable to stop the run.
"I don't think there was any one person today that was just not good. I think it was a combination of things, like it typically is. On those two plays that you're talking about, the communication, we could have went somewhere else with the ball … there's a lot of things that could have happened. Not just those plays but throughout the course of the game."
— Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer after he was asked about the interception and the red-zone throw to Diggs
"They were a lot better than we were today. They're a good football team. I think they've got a lot of good players and do a great job. But on the same token, we do too – but we made too many mistakes today. And we did not execute nearly as well as we needed to."
"I think they just rallied to it pretty well. I don't think they were in man coverage on the ones we hit – or the ones we tried, anyway. They play very hard defensively."
"It felt like they were the better team today. We didn't do enough offensively to give ourselves a chance to win the game. It hurts right now. Coach [Zimmer] said he's proud of the way the team fought this year, but right now it's just so raw that we're kind of focused on this game and just falling short. I thought the 49ers were a good team. They earned the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the way they played this season, and they were tough today."
— Vikings QB Kirk Cousins
"It was a little bit of everything. They took it took us. They punched us in the mouth, and then we didn't help ourselves when there were plays there to be made. That pick is a game-changing play, and that can't happen in the playoffs."
— Vikings WR Adam Thielen
"It was completely my fault. I didn't cross [Richard Sherman's] face, and Kirk trusted me to win on that route and make a play on the ball. I didn't do that."
"Just really not getting into a rhythm, so they were able to just sit back and do what they do. We just never got a rhythm, and they just flew around and made plays."
— Vikings RB Dalvin Cook
"They had good players. They did their thing. They ran the hell out of the ball. We couldn't stop it. That's Football 101; we've gotta stop the run, and we've gotta run the ball. That just is what it is."
— Vikings LB Eric Kendricks
"They had a good game plan. They came out, they ran the ball, they made us go lateral, so they tried to make us play slow. That's what they did. We got them in third-down situations, and when we did, we affected Jimmy. But they were getting six yards, seven yards, getting in third-and-short, so it was pretty hard. They had the flow of the game the majority of the game."
— Vikings DE Everson Griffen
"Honestly, I thought we did [come out prepared]. I thought that was one thing we handled well. We came back to work, everybody studied hard; nobody was giddy and happy that we had won a playoff game. We were ready to go, but we didn't do enough today."
— Vikings S Harrison Smith