Sun Jan 12 4:36pm ET
By JOSH DUBOW
AP Pro Football Writer
San Francisco 49ers free safety Jimmie Ward (20) celebrates during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (26) celebrates after the 49ers beat the Minnesota Vikings 27-10 in an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman (25) celebrates after the 49ers beat the Minnesota Vikings 27-10 in an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99) smiles as he rests on the bench with defensive end Nick Bosa (97) and defensive end Dee Ford (55) during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) The formula that fueled a perfect first half of the season for San Francisco was more than enough to carry the 49ers into the NFC championship game.
The Niners ran for 186 yards and completely shut down Minnesota's offense in a 27-10 victory in the divisional round Saturday in San Francisco's first playoff game in six years.
Being able to win convincingly despite a less than spectacular game from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo bodes well for the future.
''We have shown that we can win in a variety of different ways,'' left tackle Joe Staley said. ''We have had to really air out and make all of the plays in the passing game, when the run game wasn't working. We have also had games like this when we run the ball well and control the clock. It really helps getting back everybody on defense. Our defense playing as terrific as they did today gives us the opportunity to really control the clock.''
After allowing only 11 points a game the first seven games, San Francisco (14-3) gave up 25.9 points per game the rest of the season as injuries to edge rusher Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander and safety Jaquiski Tartt took a toll.
But with the bye week giving those three extra time to heal up, the Niners looked like the version from the first half of the season when they limited Minnesota to 21 yards rushing, a franchise playoff-record 147 yards and only seven first downs in a dominant performance.
''That is what we wanted to get back to,'' Ford said. ''Unfortunately, we had a little stretch of facing some tough offenses. Whether I was out there or not, we played some tough offenses. We had to fight through it, and we got through it.''
Pass rush. Ford's return opened things up for the entire defensive line leading to a six-sack performance. Ford got one to force a field-goal attempt late in the first half following an interception by Garoppolo. Rookie Nick Bosa got two of his own, while Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas each got one. Ford's speed off the edge opened up opportunities for everyone else on the defensive line.
''Just having his presence and his pass-rush ability, his knowledge and communication, he's a true vet,'' Bosa said. ''It's nice to have him out there.''
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Passing game. Garoppolo started fast in his first career playoff start, completing 5 of 6 passes for 57 yards and a 3-yard TD to Kendrick Bourne on the opening drive. Garoppolo then went 6 for 13 for 74 yards, an interception and a 32.2 rating the rest of the game. Garoppolo didn't complete a single pass thrown beyond the line of scrimmage after the first drive of the second half with his only two completions coming on passes behind the line. That didn't matter this game, but the Niners will likely need more from Garoppolo to keep this playoff run going.
RB Tevin Coleman. Coleman started the last nine games of the season even though he averaged only 3.2 yards per carry and 23.6 yards rushing per game. He rewarded coach Kyle Shanahan's confidence by rushing for 105 yards on 22 carries with two TDs. He was the first 49ers running back to rush for at least 100 yards and two TDs in a playoff game since Terry Kirby did it Jan. 3, 1998, against Minnesota. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick also did it in the 2012 playoffs against Green Bay.
CB Ahkello Witherspoon. Witherspoon committed a penalty and gave up two catches on the second drive of the game, including a 41-yard TD to Stefon Diggs. That was the fifth TD allowed by Witherspoon the past three games with San Francisco allowing no other TD passes in that span. Witherspoon was replaced by Emmanuel Moseley after and didn't return until the fourth quarter, when he allowed another catch in place of Richard Sherman.
Coleman (elbow) and fellow running back Raheem Mostert (calf) both left the game late with injuries that were not believed to be serious.
47. The Niners set a franchise record for most runs in a playoff game and lost yardage on only two of those plays: a pair of kneel downs by Garoppolo. San Francisco ran on all eight plays on a key TD drive in the third quarter, the longest playoff drive for a TD without a pass since Chicago ran on all eight plays in the NFC title game against New Orleans following the 2006 season.
The Niners will host the NFC championship game Sunday against either Seattle or Green Bay. San Francisco is 6-9 during the Super Bowl era in conference title games, including 4-5 at home.
Interview with a Champ
Ohio State star quarterback Justin Fields announced on Twitter his intentions to forego his remaining eligibility and enter the 2021 NFL draft. He is considered one of the nation's top prospects after leading the Buckeyes to the national championship game, where they fell to Alabama. Fields beat Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the semifinals by throwing six touchdowns despite suffering a hip pointer in the game. The 6-foot-3, 228-pounder was 20-2 in his time as the Ohio State starter while completing 68.4 percent of his passes and a 63:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his two seasons with the Buckeyes. Fields also ran for 867 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 15 touchdowns. Lawrence is projected to go to the Jaguars at No. 1 overall, but the Jets could snag Fields with the No. 2 pick this April.
Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff's recent inconsistent play has left his status as the starting quarterback for the 2021 season in the air and may lead the team to bring in someone who can push him, according to comments made by the NFL Network's Steve Wyche. 'The people I've spoken to said basically at this moment the relationship with Goff and (head coach Sean) McVay: not great. They need marriage counseling is what one person said to me. I think this is something that they're going to be able to work through, but there's got to be some healing and that's not just with Jared Goff's injured thumb,' Wyche said.
Fantasy Spin: Goff was very good in McVay's first two seasons (2017 and 2018), but it would seem that once opponents figured out how to slow down Todd Gurley late during the second half of the 2018 campaign, Goff started to get exposed. It's also possible that the defections of Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks have given defenses less to worry about vertically or that he is feeling the pressure of playing under his four-year, $134 million contract that he signed in September of 2019. Whatever the reason(s), fantasy owners should expect him to compete for his job in camp this summer.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Deone Bucannon, DB Javon Hagan and OG Ted Larsen were restored to the practice squad Monday, Jan. 18.
Green Bay Packers DT Brian Price and DB KeiVarae Russell were restored to the practice squad Monday, Jan. 18.
Los Angeles Rams cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant, Chicago Bears safeties coach Sean Desai and Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris are most likely candidates to replace Brandon Staley as the Rams' defensive coordinator, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic. Rodrigue is reporting a decision to fill the vacancy could happen as soon as Tuesday, Jan. 19.
New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore has forced 37 incompletions since 2018 - tied for the second-highest total in the league - according to Pro Football Focus.
New York Giants CB James Bradberry has forced a league-high 42 incompletions since 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis has forced 37 incompletions since 2018 - tied for the second-highest total in the league - according to Pro Football Focus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Vita Vea (ankle) will return to practice this week, and the team hopes he will be available for the NFC Championship game.
Dallas Cowboys DE Tyrone Crawford (foot) underwent surgery last week and showed his right foot in a cast after the surgery.
Denver Broncos impending free-agent S Justin Simmons is a player that head coach Vic Fangio wants to return next season.
The Baltimore Ravens will release veteran running back Mark Ingram II on Tuesday, according to league sources. The move will save the Ravens $5 million against the 2021 salary cap and will allow Ingram to get an early jump on free agency. Ingram was a healthy scratch in five of the team's final six games to close out the season, but he insists that he's healthy and has plenty to offer a team in 2021. The 31-year-old was a first-round pick out of Alabama back in 2011, but he's unlikely to be anything more than a backup if he lands with another team on the open market this offseason. J.K. Dobbins took over as Baltimore's lead back in the second half of the 2020 season, and Gus Edwards should continue spelling him next season. Ingram, a three-time Pro Bowler, had 72 carries for 299 yards (4.2 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns in 11 games (nine starts) in his second year in Baltimore.
Baltimore Ravens RB Mark Ingram has been informed that he will be released Tuesday, Jan. 19, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Ingram may not be able to find a starting job this offseason but can be part of a running back committee for a team. Fantasy players can monitor the situation because Ingram can have fantasy value depending on his situation.
Free-agent CB Davontae Harris (Ravens) may re-sign with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason.
The Baltimore Ravens waived quarterback Robert Griffin III, defensive back Davontae Harris, wide receiver De'Anthony Harris and defensive back Tramon Williams on Monday. Griffin played in four games in his third season with the Ravens and made a start in place of Lamar Jackson after he contracted COVID-19 in the Week 12 loss to the Steelers. RG3 went just 7-for-12 for 33 yards and an interception in that start, also running the ball seven times for an additional 20 yards. The No. 2 overall pick might've played in his last NFL game, but he could also return to the Ravens if he goes unclaimed on waiver. The 30-year-old started just two games in three years for Baltimore and declined after he was named a Pro Bowler in his rookie season with Washington.
Seattle Seahawks practice squad LB Ray-Ray Armstrong, OG Alex Boone, RB Alex Collins, RB Bo Scarbrough and TE Stephen Sullivan had their contracts expire Monday, Jan. 18.
Chicago Bears practice squad LB Devante Bond, QB Tyler Bray, OG Eric Kush, CB Sojourn Shelton, LB Manti Te'o and RB Spencer Ware had their contracts expire Monday, Jan. 18.
Pittsburgh Steelers CB Joe Haden was activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 on Monday, Jan. 18.
Baltimore Ravens QB Robert Griffin III, DB Davontae Harris, WR De'Anthony Thomas and CB Tramon Williams were waived Monday, Jan. 18.
Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said that the team will be careful with rookie running back A.J. Dillon (undisclosed), but he is hopeful that Dillon can play on Sunday against the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship game. Dillon left the fourth quarter of the win over the Rams in the Divisional Round on Saturday with an undisclosed injury. The 22-year-old ran the ball six times for 27 yards in the win over the Rams. Keep a close eye on his practice status throughout the week. If he's inactive against Tampa Bay, Jamaal Williams would be a much more attractive DFS sleeper behind Aaron Jones. Dillon dealt with injury and was on the COVID-19 list in his rookie season, but he could have a substantial role in Green Bay's backfield in 2021 if Jones leaves in free agency.