5 Plays: Why The Vikings Beat the 49ers

They say the difference between going 6-10 and 10-6 is only about six plays per season. Each week I’m going to do a write up on five plays that changed the result of the game. Some might be obvious, but the idea is to look at the small conversions and plays that get lost in the big picture. These are the plays that ultimately lead us to the ones that we remember.


  1. 2nd Quarter , 7:39 – Trae Waynes Saves a TD

Score: 10-3  MIN

Field Position: 1st & 10 at MIN 43

Result of Drive: Fumble on Goal Line

Synopsis: Jimmy Garoppolo dropped back and delivered a dime to Dante Pettis, who had it briefly pinned against Trae Waynes outstretched arm. Waynes played perfect coverage on this snap, and as the two players went to the ground, Waynes pryed the ball away and it fell incomplete, saving a touchdown.

Because of This Play: The Niners fail to tie the game 10-10. The Niners did proceed to move down the field after this, but the momentum-swinging fumble on the goal line would not have happened.


  1. 2nd Quarter, 1:56 – Adam Thielen Converts on 3rd Down

Score: 10-3 MIN

Field Position: 3rd & 8 at MIN 4

Result of Drive: End of Half

Synopsis: Kirk Cousins delivered a quick slant to Adam Thielen and Thielen took it for another seven yards or so to kickstart a Vikings drive at the end of the half.

Because of This Play: This is a big one. The Vikings were pinned in their own territory and would have been punting with about 1:50 on the clock, giving the Niners prime field position. This small conversion probably saved at least three points and gave the Vikings a seven-point lead into the break, as opposed to a potential tie game, with the Niners getting the ball at half.


  1. 3rd Quarter, 10:54 – Kittle Drops a Big One

Score: 10-3 MIN

Field Position: 2nd & 8 at SF 20

Result of Drive: Mike Hughes Pick 6Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 8.41.00 PM

Synopsis: The Niners second drive of the half, the Vikings D had a lapse in coverage and Jimmy G delivered a great ball to a wide-open George Kittle near midfield. The ball fell through Kittle’s outstretched hands, who had at least another 20 yards of field in front of him. A catch would have put the Niners in the Red Zone, if not the End Zone.

Because of This Play: This is probably the most important play of the game, as it was at least a ten, potentially fourteen, point swing. The ensuing play was Mike Hughes’ pick-six to put the Vikings ahead 17-3. Had Kittle caught the ball, there’s a chance this game could have had a different result.

*Bonus George Kittle Play* – 4th Quarter, 8:17 – Garoppolo had another missed connection with Kittle that could have swung the momentum, but this one was his fault. He overthrew Kittle from inside the 5-yard line to force a FG and keep the Niners behind 24-16.


  1. 3rd Quarter, 5:50 – Cousins Hits Morgan on 3rd Down

Score: 17-6 MIN

Field Position: 3rd & 1 at SF 16

Result of Drive: Kyle Rudolph Touchdown

Synopsis: This was a nice play by Cousins, who avoided the rush and threw a Matt Stafford-like side armed pass into David Morgan. Morgan did the rest by gaining a good chunk of yards on a vital conversion to keep the drive alive which ultimately ended in a touchdown.

Because of This Play: The Vikings were able to extend their lead on Cousins beautiful toss to Kyle Rudolph, making this a three-score game instead of two. Had this drive ended in a field goal, this game would have been much too close for comfort considering the push the Niners made in the final quarter.


  1. 4th Quarter, 6:32 – Harrison Smith Sacks Garoppolo

Score: 24-16 MIN

Field Position: 3rd & 5 at the 50

Result of Drive: Punt

Synopsis: This play may be a bit more obvious, as Mike Zimmer dialed up a blitz and Harrison Smith busted through the line to drag down Jimmy Garoppolo for a loss of 10. Garoppolo never had a chance to get the ball off as Smith was on him immediately, forcing the Niners to punt.

Because of This Play: This was the Niners best chance to tie the game, holding the ball at midfield only down by eight. Smith’s sack erased any chance at a miraculous finish (and so did his interception on the next drive), as the Vikings got the ball back and chewed up some clock. That drive, the Vikings had several crucial plays to put the game out of reach including Cousins’ hard count to move the chains and wind down the clock.

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