For the first point since much, much earlier in the regular season, the San Francisco 49ers defense was almost entirely at full strength. And it came at a perfect time, too, as the Niners soundly upended the Minnesota Vikings 27-10 in the NFC divisional round at Levi's Stadium on Saturday.

That defense held Minnesota to a mere seven first downs over the course of the game, while limiting Vikings running back Dalvin Cook -- a major focal point of San Francisco's defense -- to a mere 26 all-purpose yards. The 49ers also sacked quarterback Kirk Cousins six times after registering only four sacks over their final five regular-season games.

A big reason? Three of the Niners' key impact players returned from injury: safety Jaquiski Tartt, linebacker Kwon Alexander and EDGE Dee Ford.

Ford was the only questionable player on San Francisco's injury report ahead of the game. But as he told reporters following the victory, he wasn't going to miss the 49ers' first ever playoff game at Levi's Stadium.

"I was going to play regardless," Ford said. "You are going to have to cart me off the field to get me to not play at this point and time."

Ford picked up one of those six sacks, while fellow EDGE Nick Bosa had two. Defensive tackles DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas all picked up one apiece as well.

"Have those three guys, Jaquiski, Kwon, Dee... having those guys back really helps with the energy, the confidence in the defense and everything," Buckner added. "I feel like the guys just played their tails off, trusted one another while we were out there."

At times during the game, it appeared as if the 49ers defense was swarming and never allowing the Vikings to get any sort of offensive rhythm. In total, Minnesota had just 147 yards of offense, went 2-of-12 on third downs and averaged only 3.3 yards per play. Subtract wide receiver Stefon Diggs' 41-yard first-quarter touchdown, and the Vikings' efforts look even worse.

Or San Francisco's defense looks just that much better.

"We were just being legendary, being ourselves," Alexander said after the game. "We work hard. We worked hard this week. Everybody came to work ready, with a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, and it showed out there on the field."

The rest of the team seemed to feed off these three players, too, as did the raucous crowd at Levi's Stadium. San Francisco's defense was quick to the ball, often because of Alexander closing off lanes in which Cook was trying to exploit. The added cutbacks by Minnesota's top running back frequently allowed other defenders to converge quickly.

They did.

"Watching those guys play football together, our defense as a whole, it's so fun to watch," tight end George Kittle said. "Especially when they're completely loaded in there, they're deep. Just fun to watch them go out and attack. They're so violent, physical and they play every single snap together.

"It's so fun to watch from the sidelines."

San Francisco's most recent defensive domination came back in a Week 12 bout with the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football -- a game which the 49ers pulled off a one-sided 37-8 victory. Green Bay could end up playing the Niners in the NFC Championship round, provided the home-field Packers upend the Seattle Seahawks in Round 2 of the NFC divisional round.

Good thing the 49ers defense looks as sharp as it has been at any point this entire season, especially with healthy returnees like Ford, Tartt and Alexander.
  • Peter Panacy
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.