SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It’s hard to imagine Vikings general manager Rick Spielman wasn’t watching with envy from the press box on Saturday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium as the San Francisco 49ers put the finishing touches on a dominant 27-10 win.
Not only because the 49ers were going to the NFC championship game instead of his Vikings.
Even more sobering for Spielman had to be the fact that 49ers general manager John Lynch effectively built a better version of what he has been trying to build ever since he got to the Twin Cities.
Just look at how the 49ers laid the beatdown on the Vikings.
They passed the ball effectively with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. They ran the ball down with ease using the two-headed monster of Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert at running back. They came up big defensively time and time again with an interception from cornerback Richard Sherman getting the blowout rolling and a sack by defensive end Nick Bosa finishing it off.
Everything about it was exactly how the Vikings have long tried to win games under coach Mike Zimmer. Except the 49ers found a way to do it so, so, so much better.
All this talk about the Vikings perhaps being the team of destiny after an unlikely upset of the New Orleans Saints last week was quickly put to rest on Saturday as the 49ers seized control.
Sure, there was some smoke and mirrors early on from the Vikings, as quarterback Kirk Cousins hit wide receiver Stefon Diggs with a 41-yard bomb in the first quarter to tie the game at 7-7.
Heck, linebacker Eric Kendricks even managed to keep things interesting late in the second quarter, intercepting Garoppolo and setting up a field goal as the Vikings trailed 14-10 heading into the locker room at halftime.
At that point, the game was there for the taking, and the Vikings handed it over to the 49ers without much of a fight. Literally.
After the Vikings managed to hold the 49ers to a field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter, making it 17-10, Cousins threw an interception to Sherman on the ensuing drive.
That’s where the game started to get out of hand. The 49ers again stole the Vikings’ identity, running it eight times in a row and finishing the drive with a plunge up the gut to make it 24-10.
Meanwhile, after changing the narrative last week, Cousins reignited questions about whether he’s the guy to lead the Vikings going forward. Take away the 41-yard bomb to Diggs early on, and Cousins finished with a mere 131 passing yards, almost all of which came in garbage time.
It wasn’t good enough from the $84 million man, and somehow running back Dalvin Cook was worse, finishing with 18 rushing yards. In fact, not only was Cook bottled up by the stout defensive front, he was massively outrushed by Coleman and Mostert.
After the 49ers tacked on a field goal to finalize the score at 27-10, the game clock mercifully bled away with the pocket crumbling around Cousins, a perfect encapsulation to an up-and-down season for the Vikings.
Perhaps the worse part for Spielman and the rest of the front office is they are so pot stuck with this group that they almost have to run it back one more time next season.
And they have to do so knowing there’s a better version of the Vikings lurking elsewhere in the conference.