The Vikings’ game against the 49ers on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif., will feature two teams that appeared to be in big trouble a few weeks back.
The Vikings were sitting at 3-5 after losing back-to-back games to Dallas and Baltimore and were set to face tough opponents in the Chargers and Packers. Faced with falling hopelessly behind Green Bay in the NFC North, and with coach Mike Zimmer’s job in jeopardy, the Vikings decided to embrace their offensive firepower. That resulted in wins at Los Angeles and against the Packers.
San Francisco was 2-4 after a 30-18 loss to Indianapolis on Oct. 24 extended the 49ers’ losing streak to four games. The Niners have won three of four since, beating Chicago, the Rams and Jacksonville. Their only loss was a 31-17 defeat on Nov. 7 against Arizona.
The Vikings and 49ers will enter Sunday’s game with 5-5 records, with Minnesota in the sixth playoff spot, one ahead of New Orleans and San Francisco based on the tie-breaker for best winning percentage in conference games.
There are similarities in the turnarounds for each team. While Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense has been allowed to cut it loose, Jimmy Garoppolo has been playing better for San Francisco. He threw three touchdown passes for the third consecutive game Sunday in the visiting 49ers’ 30-10 victory over the Jaguars.
San Francisco scored on its first five possessions against Jacksonville (2-8) and ran the ball 33 times on its first 37 plays. The 49ers’ offensive threats include tight end George Kittle and leading receiver Deebo Samuel, who has 55 catches for 994 yards and five touchdowns and 19 rushing attempts for 137 yards and three touchdowns. The 49ers’ eighth-ranked rushing attack is certain to test the Vikings’ 27th-ranked rushing defense.
Evening Judd: #Vikings will need to embrace another offensive slugfest on Sunday.
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) November 23, 2021
Trying to stop that rushing attack became potentially even more difficult on Tuesday when the Vikings announced that defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson had been placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. Tomlinson isn’t believed to be vaccinated, meaning he could be sidelined against the 49ers.
If Tomlinson is unvaccinated and was a close contact to someone who tested positive, he will have to stay away from the Vikings for five days if he’s asymptomatic. But he must miss 10 days if he is symptomatic and tests positive.
The Vikings already are shorthanded on the defensive line with nose tackle Michael Pierce out because of an elbow injury. Veteran defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson played some snaps at end on Sunday against the Packers but Tomlinson’s absence could impact Zimmer’s decision to continue having Richardson play both tackle and end.
The Tomlinson news could provide even more motivation for the 49ers to run the ball. Garoppolo, meanwhile, is putting on a solid audition for a new employer, considering the 49ers are likely to turn over the quarterback job to first-round pick Trey Lance next season. The Marshall, Minn., native was the third-overall pick in the 2021 draft.
- While the Vikings act as if nothing has changed behind the scenes with their offense, there remains a strong buzz that quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko has played a significant role in helping the unit go from predictable and often-times unsuccessful to one that looks far more creative and is allowing Cousins to take shots to Justin Jefferson and others.
- Remember all of the changes the Vikings made this offseason to help improve Zimmer’s defense? Statistically, the unit remains below average. The Vikings are 28th in total defensive (giving up 378.9 yards per game), putting them ahead of only Miami, Houston, Seattle and the Jets. The run defense is 27th (127 yards per game), the pass defense is 21st (251.9) and the scoring defense is 22nd (24.2 points per game). Last season, the Vikings were 27th in total defense (393.3) and 29th in scoring defense (29.7).
- A Twitter follower threw out an interesting question. Could tight end Irv Smith Jr., return this season, if the Vikings made the playoffs? Smith suffered a meniscus injury in the preseason and underwent surgery in September. His timetable for recovery timetable was put at four to five months. The NFL playoffs start on Jan. 15 and Smith had his surgery on Sept. 1.
- While the British Columbia-based Province reports that the Wild have called the Vancouver Canucks about 28-year-old center J.T. Miller, it sounds as if the two sides have not discussed such a deal. The idea that Wild winger Kevin Fiala would go to the Canucks in a potential trade was thrown out as a possibility by the reporter (we at SKOR North love this reckless speculation), but the reality is Fiala appears to be staying put. At least for now. Fiala has found himself in coach Dean Evason’s doghouse of late and has only three goals on 59 shots this season. The lack of scoring likely isn’t the main reason Evason is unhappy. It’s when Fiala’s overall game slips that the coach gets upset.
- Zimmer awarded equipment manager Dennis Ryan with a Game Ball after Sunday’s win. Ryan missed the game because of COVID-19, the first time he’s missed one in 45 years. Ryan is one of the hardest working guys in the business. Zimmer said Ryan is doing fine and expected back later this week.
- Kenny Albert, Jonathan Vilma and Sara Walsh have the Vikings-49ers call for FOX.
- The Gophers will play West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Dec. 28 at Chase Field in Phoenix, according to Jerry Palm of CBS Sports. Chase is the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
- Left winger Matt Boldy, the Wild prospect who was sidelined late in the preseason after suffering a fractured left ankle, returned last weekend and had three goals and an assist in two games with the Iowa Wild of the AHL. Center Marco Rossi, another top prospect, leads Iowa in scoring with 14 points, including three goals, in 11 games. The Wild want both to get plenty of playing time but it will be interesting to see when they get the call to the NHL.
- The Timberwolves have won four consecutive games, beating Sacramento, San Antonio, Memphis and New Orleans. Those four clubs are a combined 22-48 this season. Minnesota will get a tough test on Wednesday night when Jimmy Butler and the Heat (11-6) visit Target Center.
- Former Gophers football coach Jerry Kill is the top choice of New Mexico State to take over their program, according to Football Scoop. Kill stepped down as the Gophers coach during the 2015 season because of health concerns, but since then has worked as an associate athletic director at Kansas State (2016), offensive coordinator at Rutgers (2017) and special assistant to the head coach at Virginia Tech (2019) before taking the same job at TCU in 2020 to work for his good friend Gary Patterson. Kill replaced Patterson on an interim basis this month after Patterson left the job. If Kill takes the New Mexico State job, he will return to Minneapolis on Sept. 1 to face the Gophers in their 2022 opener. That would be interesting considering Kill was less than pleased when P.J. Fleck got the Minnesota job.