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Lunchbreak: Rudolph TD Backed Up 'It's Not Ending' Decree on Superdome Sideline

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph was thrilled last spring to sign an extension to stay with the team that drafted him in 2011.

He recently was featured in The Players' Tribune and said, "All I ever wanted to do was stay."

The following is an excerpt from the piece:

All I've ever wanted, for as long as I've been in this league, is to keep on playing tight end for the Minnesota Vikings — and to be a part of the team that finally delivers this franchise its Super Bowl.

[…]

It's funny, our very first game of the season — I mean the preseason — was in the Superdome. And as the game clock struck zero at the end of regulation [on Sunday], and as we headed into overtime….. it was the strangest feeling. Almost like we were coming full circle.

I paced around the sideline a bit, and then brought the guys together.

"Our season started here," I shouted. "But it's not ending here!"

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Rudolph referenced Adam Thielen's 43-yard catch from Kirk Cousins, "an absolute dime," that put Minnesota at the 2-yard line and set up the touchdown catch by Rudolph that advanced the Vikings to the upcoming Divisional round game.

The Vikings tight end was glad that fans saw the postgame video of him and Cousins receiving the game balls. But not for the reason one might expect. Rather, he was glad because "the people outside our locker room got to catch a glimpse of how the players inside the locker room feel about Kirk."

That's our guy, you know? And he's been our guy. And I think we've all felt a little weird about just the nature of how our team gets covered: where, if the team loses, then no matter who's to blame, or who played poorly, or who played well — that L gets hung right on Kirk.

[…]

The Seahawks game from a few Monday nights ago is a perfect example. Kirk went toe-to-toe with Russell [Wilson] in that game, truly punch for punch, and it's tough to say who played better. But then their team made one more play than ours at the end, totally out of Kirk's control ... and now suddenly it's, "Kirk can't hang"? Of course it's not. Which I guess is just my way of saying, look — this stuff with Kirk, it's always been silly. But that dude is a star. And last weekend against the Saints, that wasn't him proving it. That was just everyone outside of our locker room finally recognizing it. So yeah, you know, we were a little jacked.

Rudolph expressed his disappointment in the Vikings 2018 campaign, which may have lowered outside expectations on a Minnesota that advanced to the NFC Championship two years ago.

But as the Vikings showed in New Orleans, they embrace the underdog role.

So when this season rolled around, and no one really expected for us to be much of a factor ... I mean, yeah, trust me, we definitely noticed. And I think we kind of relished being in that spot.

And while the idea of us being here now might be a surprise to a few experts? It's not a surprise to any of us. We believe we belong — and that's a belief that's only getting more and more powerful.

To view Rudolph's feature in its entirety, click here.

NFL.com names Cook vs. 49ers front 'matchup to watch'

It's just about that time.

The Vikings and 49ers will face off on Saturday afternoon with the NFC Championship Game on the line.

NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman previewed the matchup and provided thoughts on "The Backstory," "Under Pressure," "Matchup to Watch" and a final score prediction.

Bergman opined that the matchup to watch is Vikings running back Dalvin Cook versus the 49ers front seven. He wrote:

Cousins doesn't have the legacy-defining day he had last Sunday if not for the return of Cook, who became the first Vikings player last week since Adrian Peterson 10 years ago to rush for [more than] 90 yards and two touchdowns in a postseason game. A healthy Cook allows Cousins to cook, making his lethal play-action game ever more so and freeing up [Adam] Thielen, [Stefon] Diggs and Kyle Rudolph, given they're all healthy.

Editor's note: Thielen was listed as questionable with an ankle injury on Thursday's injury report.

Minnesota will aim to get Cook going early against a Niners run defense that lags behind its pass defense in dominance. San Francisco allowed 4.5 yards per rush and 112.6 yards per game (17__th__) in 2019, and just two weeks ago let … the Seahawks run for 125. For as stifling as the pass rush spearheaded by [Nick] Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead is, San Fran's run defense is vulnerable, and the potential return of Ford and Alexander to the front seven might not be enough to slow Cook and keep Minnesota off the field.

NFL execs & coaches weigh in on Vikings-49ers, via The Athletic

Last weekend delivered an entertaining slate of Wild Card games, including two that went into overtime; now, the eight remaining teams will duel during the Divisional round.

The Athletic's Mike Sando spoke to NFL executives and coaches around the league who weighed in on this weekend's games, including the Vikings-49ers matchup that will kick off at 3:35 p.m. (CT) on Saturday.

In addition to Sando asking questions about 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan regarding his scheme and "what he might exploit" against Minnesota, he also asked a coach to weigh in on both defenses. Sando wrote:

View practice images from the Vikings practice on Jan. 9 at TCO Performance Center.

Both teams figure to spend much of the game in their base defenses. That is because San Francisco finished the regular season ranked first and Minnesota was second in offensive plays using two running backs.

"For most defenses, there is shock value when you have to fit the two-back run, but both these teams play against it in camp and OTAs, so this really is, in [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer's words, 'big-boy football,' " a defensive coach said. "Who can reestablish the line of scrimmage and then keep it going? You try to limit the run, but then there's play-action, and if not the play-action, it's the screen game. I could easily see this thing becoming a battle of two at-times-elite defenses, specifically their fronts."

[…]

[The Vikings] lost four yards on four plays using 23 personnel (two backs, three tight ends) from the 3-yard-line and closer. They did score a touchdown on one of those plays from the 1-yard-line, but just barely. Will the Vikings win those matchups against the 49ers, or might they use lighter personnel? Twenty-three personnel was once a staple near the goal line, but not any longer. Only 10 teams used it from the 3-yard-line or closer during the regular season. Overall, teams were five times more likely to use 11 personnel in that area of the field. No team has used 23 personnel against the 49ers from the 3-yard-line or closer this season.

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