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NOTEBOOK: Rudolph, Vikings Have Shifted Full Focus to 49ers

EAGAN, Minn. — There's no doubt Kyle Rudolph will one day look back and reminisce about his game-winning overtime touchdown catch in New Orleans.

But this isn't the week for that, not with kickoff against the 49ers less than 72 hours away.

"I think being on a short week forces you to mentally put it aside," Rudolph said. "I think the challenges become getting fresh on a short week.

"We played 79 snaps on offense and battled down there to get a win," Rudolph added. "Now, short week, we've got to be ready to go out to San Francisco."

Instead, Rudolph and his teammates are looking full steam ahead toward top-seeded San Francisco, a rested team that went 13-3, won the NFC West and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs.

But there is one aspect of the past from which the Vikings are hoping to learn.

Minnesota and New Orleans have now met twice in the postseason in the past three years, with the Vikings winning both meetings on the final play of the game.

Two years ago, a miraculous ending was followed by a poor performance by everyone, as the Vikings lost 38-7 to the Eagles in the NFC title game.

As one of six captains, Rudolph said part of his role is making sure the Vikings are more focused this time around as they head on the road to face a No. 1 seed.

"We'd be remiss if we didn't learn from two years ago," Rudolph said. "It's an opportunity for us to realize, 'Hey, the last time we won on the last play of the game and had a huge, emotional victory, we went and laid an egg the following week.'

"I hope the guys that were around are able to learn from that and realize it was a great game, a big win for us but just the first step in the direction that we're trying to get going," Rudolph added. "Going to San Francisco this week is the next step."

Minnesota currently still has 27 players in its locker room that were on the 53-man roster against the Eagles, including more than a dozen who started.

A pair of those players, defensive end Everson Griffen and safety Harrison Smith, echoed Rudolph's comments about needing to be sharper in all areas this time around.

"It all starts with practice," Griffen said. "Going out there and being smart during practice and doing the right things and game plan the right way.

"I think right now during the season it's more about the mental part of the game. We've been playing football now for 20-something odd weeks, plus OTAs, minicamp … the whole shebang," Griffen added. "I think we just have to study. I think studying is the most important thing right now."

Added Smith: "I think, obviously every team is separate, but having guys who have been in playoff games before … we're a veteran group. We put it in the rearview. It's great that it happened, but we moved on. We had that experience before."

Rudolph had 39 receptions for 367 yards in the regular season while tying for the team lead with six touchdown catches.

He'll face a stout 49ers defense that only allowed one tight end to surpass 100 receiving yards in 2019.

In 16 games, San Francisco allowed 46 catches for 456 yards and four scores to opponents' No. 1 tight ends.


"Vikings Postgame" Live After Saturday's Game

Visit, the Vikings App, Vikings Now (Connected TV app), or the team's Facebook, Twitter or YouTube pages to watch "Vikings Postgame" after Saturday's game against the 49ers.

Stephen says he'll play vs. 49ers

Shamar Stephen played 33 snaps in Sunday's game against the Saints, but limped off the field with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The defensive tackle didn't return but said this week that he plans on playing Saturday in San Francisco.

"I'm good," Stephen said. "I'm good to go."

Stephen might not fill up the stat sheet — Vikings coaches credited him with two total tackles against New Orleans — but his presence helps others around him, especially in the run game.

"He's a really good run defender; he helps our linebackers out a lot," Zimmer said. "He's played the run great all year long. I think he'll be a big factor."

Stephen said the Vikings top defensive priority each week is to stop the run and added there is an extra emphasis on that this week.

The 49ers ranked second in the NFL in total rushing attempts (498), rushing yards per game (144.1) and were first with 23 rushing touchdowns during the regular season.

"They do a good job of running the ball," Stephen said. "We have to be able to get on [quarterback Jimmy] Garoppolo's feet and put pressure on him and make him throw high throws. Just be able to stop the run, really, because they do a fantastic job running the ball and just opening up stuff.

"In the playoffs it counts more, so you can't make those kinds of mistakes you made in the regular season or else you won't have another chance," Stephen later added. "Being able to stop the run and making people one-dimensional is very huge in the playoffs. That's what we have to do."

Bailey praises Vikings ST operation

For nearly the entirety of training camp, the Vikings kept five specialists on their roster with some sort of combination of kickers, punters and long snappers.

That group was pared to two for the regular season with kicker Dan Bailey and long snapper Austin Cutting, while punter Britton Colquitt joined the team in the week before the regular season.

As the Vikings get ready for Saturday's Divisional round playoff game against the 49ers, it's safe to say the trio has developed a bond in recent months.

"I think it's been great. We did a lot of experimenting and stuff in training camp by moving guys around and trying different things," Bailey said. "But the crew and group of guys I ended up with, I couldn't ask for anything more. They're both pros on every level and make my job easy.

"It's been fun, just a really fun year working with those guys. Anytime you're having success, that makes it fun," Bailey added. "We've come a long way since training camp, and I'm just happy to be a part of it."

Bailey hit a pair of field goals and two extra points Sunday against the Saints. Including the regular season, Bailey has now made 29 of 31 field goals (93.5 percent), along with 42 of 46 extra points.

Colquitt, meanwhile, averaged 49.7 yards on six punts Sunday, including a long of 57, but did record a touchback after not having one in the regular season.

Zimmer said he just lets the specialists be, but he did note that the Vikings will be outdoors on Saturday. Bailey, for what it's worth was 11 of 12 on field goals outdoors in 2019.

"Both our punter and kicker have done really well. But each situation's different," Zimmer said Wednesday. "We were fortunate we were in a dome last week – we didn't have to worry about the wind or anything like that.

"This week could be different – we're going to be outside, and the field conditions might change," Zimmer added. "But I have a lot of confidence in those two guys."