MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings let a huge opportunity for positioning in the NFC Playoffs slip away after a 34-26 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
The Vikings’ two-game win streak is over, and to add injury to insult, Dalvin Cook had to be carted off the field in the second half and was ruled out with a shoulder injury. Mike Zimmer said after the game he’ll have an MRI on Monday. Cook fumbled, went down immediately in pain and the 49ers recovered, eventually converting the turnover into a field goal and 34-26 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Kirk Cousins finished 20-of-32 passing for 238 yards and two touchdowns to Adam Thielen, but also had an interception that led to an Elijah Mitchell touchdown that put the 49ers up 28-14 in the third quarter. It was just his third interception of the season, and first in nine road games.
Cousins missed on a few key throws, and with the game on the line in the fourth quarter on a potential scoring drive, the Vikings burned a timeout after they weren’t lined up properly. Cousins himself tried to take a snap under right guard Oli Udoh. The Vikings had 1st-and-goal from the 6 on that drive, and it started with two short runs from Alexander Mattison. Cousins then missed Tyler Conklin in the end zone, and on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line after the timeout, Cousins sailed a pass over Justin Jefferson. A turnover on downs, and no points.
"It was a miscommunication," Zimmer said on having to use the timeout.
"We just didn’t get lined up properly and the play clock was winding down. I was just moving, trying to get everybody settled up and I got under the wrong guy," Cousins said.
With the entire Vikings’ starting defensive line unable to play, the 49ers ran for 208 of their 423 total yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce are out injured, Dalvin Tomlinson is on the reserve/COVID-19 list and Everson Griffen is away from the team to address concerns for his mental health.
Elijah Mitchell led the 49ers with 27 carries for 133 yards and a touchdown. Deebo Samuel added six carries for 66 yards and two scores. Zimmer accused the 49ers of holding on several plays after the game.
"I mean these guys hold all the time. They were grabbing us around the waist, grabbing our backs and officials, they don’t want to call it every play. Until they start calling it every play, they’re not going to stop doing it," Zimmer said.
49ers tight end George Kittle offered a response to that.
"It’s football. Refs throw flags, refs don’t throw flags, it’s just the game. If you’re going to sit on the sideline and complain about holding the whole time, tell your guys to make better plays," Kittle said.
Adam Thielen’s second touchdown of the day gave the Vikings a 14-7 lead in the second quarter, but the 49ers scored 21 straight points in 4:09 of game clock to take a 28-14 lead early in the third quarter. Mitchell scored from three yards out after Cousins was intercepted by Azeez Al-Saair.
The sequence started with Jimmy Garoppolo hitting Jauan Jennings for a 2-yard touchdown with 18 seconds to play in the first half, tying the game 14-14. The Vikings have given up an NFL-worst 66 points in the final two minutes of the first half this season.
Samuel scored from four yards to give the 49ers a 21-14 lead. Twenty two seconds later, Mitchell scored for a 28-14 49ers’ lead with 11:09 left in the third quarter.
Mattison scored from six yards out to get the Vikings within 28-20, after Greg Joseph missed an extra point. Trailing 31-20, Kene Nwangwu returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score to get the Vikings within 31-26. On the ensuing two-point try, Cousins missed an open Jefferson in the end zone.
Robbie Gould gave the Vikings a final chance after a missing a 42-yard field goal wide right with 1:56 to play. The game ended with Cousins missing Jefferson high on 4th-and-8, and the receiver frustrated.
"I don’t like to lose. I’m a competitor, I love to win. I love this game, so any time we don’t come out on top and we fall short, especially because we feel like we didn’t play the game that we wanted to, it’s always frustrating," Jefferson said.
Thielen finished with five catches for 62 yards and two scores, Jefferson had four catches for 83 yards and Cook had 103 total yards before leaving the game injured. It was an inconsistent day for Cousins, the Vikings’ defense and the inability to stop the run that did them in Sunday.
In addition to losing Cook, the Vikings lost Anthony Barr in the second half to a hamstring injury.
The Vikings fall to 5-6 on the season, and slip to the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC with six games to play. Their next three games include a road game against the winless Detroit Lions, hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers for Thursday Night Football (5-5-1) and Monday Night Football against the Chicago Bears (4-7) at Soldier Field.
"From being around this team all year long, they’ve had a lot of times where they’ve had opportunities to let something affect them. They just come out the next week and they play their rear ends off. I’m proud of their effort today, they played hard," Zimmer said. "We didn’t get the win so there’s no consolation prize, but I’m proud of the way they competed. They go out there and fight. We didn’t get the win, but if nothing else they’re fighters."