The NFC's top-seeded San Francisco 49ers will host the Minnesota Vikings in a winner-takes-all battle at Levi's® Stadium on Saturday. With both team's eyeing the NFC Championship game next week, here's what coaches and players from the 49ers and Vikings are saying ahead the game.
Kyle Shanahan on the impact Kwon Alexander can have in Saturday's matchup:
"Kwon is a very good linebacker. He runs and hits. He's smart in our defense. The energy you guys see him walk around and live his life by is the energy that he brings on the football field, too. Our team loves him. We're fired up when he's out there and he's a good player also."
Shanahan on the kind of leader Jimmy Garoppolo is:
"I think he's a very good leader because he's himself and people respect how he plays. Jimmy doesn't change. Whether he's doing really good or really bad, or whether he has a bad day or good day, he's going to treat everyone the same. He's always the same guy, the same friend, the same teammate. He works the same regardless. I think just the way he talks to guys. He doesn't sit there and talk down to people. That's not really his style to ride people. But, he also has a way of holding people accountable by being himself, too. That stuff only works if you work and also they respect how you play. Jimmy has earned that respect how he's played, he's earned it how he's worked. I think the guys really appreciate him as a man."
Shanahan on the Vikings talented safety duo of Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith:
"The scheme they play in is very good. It puts a lot of pressure on them, but allows them to make a lot of plays, too. Smith has been there for a while. Then Harris, I did not see him the last time, but he's come in and been very impressive. He's got the ball skills. They both run and hit. They've got very sound coverages with linebackers underneath and stuff. There's not always a ton of pressure on them that allows them to just run, make plays in the run game by being physical and allows them to be some ball hawks, too."
Shanahan on Deebo Samuel's progression as a rookie:
"Deebo's allowed us to do more each week. Going through the whole year, receivers, the style of game in college, there's not as much man-to-man, it's a lot more fast tempo. There's huge zones with where the hashes are. It is very hard to get good at route running, especially when you've got some of these guys who are pretty talented with the ball in their hands. Working on the routes so much in college is kind of a waste of time. They're just going against zone, just get them open in the zone, have them run. It's almost like a fast break basketball. When you get that, guys are sloppy a little bit on their routes, which Deebo was because he didn't have much experience. For him to play all year like that and to get better each week, even battling through some injuries, it's been great. Says a lot about him as a man. That's where he's improved the most."
QB Jimmy Garoppolo on if this game feels different as it's his first-career playoff start:
"I think the intensity and everything like that. I've been a part of some playoff games and seen the atmosphere of the building ramp up, the atmosphere of the coaches, players, everyone. Yeah, a lot more energy in the building, for sure.
"Obviously being the starter and backup is a little different. Yeah, I'm trying to prepare the same I have this whole season, treat this week, just go through my routine and everything like that like I normally do. Yeah, like I said before, the energy I think, especially on Saturday in that stadium, will be pretty special."
Garoppolo on what he's seen from the Vikings defense:
"They're a talented group defensively. Very sound. They have their rules. They stick to their rules. Coach (Vikings head coach Mike) Zimmer does a great job of getting them in great plays. They make it tough on offenses. That D-line, they are impressive. They get after you, so it will be a good test for us."
Garoppolo on what the Vikings defense does to limit the effectiveness of opposing tight ends:
"I mean, their overall scheme, I think, helps them with that. They have talented safeties, talented linebackers who are the guys covering them. They do good in man-to-man situations. It will be tough on us to get those completions."
Garoppolo on if the end of season stretch helped the team mentally going into the playoffs:
"Yeah, well, we've had a couple of late games this season that just felt like playoff games. Starting with Seattle here, Baltimore, New Orleans, all those games. We've said it throughout the entire season, I think it's going to help us going forward. As far as the experience with it, I think just we don't have to deal with the noise and things like that. It will be a little different at home. Just the energy, the intensity that's out there, it's a little different."
"Yeah, I mean, having an extra pass-rusher always helps. You get more one-on-ones, get the slide two. Opens up stuff for the interior guys, as well. Probably see them start to get more opportunities with Dee on the field, too. It's not just me. It's just great to have another good pass-rusher on the field."
Bosa on the talent of Vikings running back Dalvin Cook:
"I've been watching him since Florida State. He's really good. Not many people could just maintain the speed that he maintains through contact. He just makes cuts and never slows down. He's physical. They've got two of them, so it's going to be a challenge. We've played some good backs, but we haven't played him. We've just got to bring it."
WR Emmanuel Sanders on the atmosphere in the locker room heading into the playoffs:
"I think it's loose. When you've got guys like Kendrick Bourne walking around the locker room dancing, blasting music, doing all kind of dance moves, it's kind of hard to not be loose. Even this morning, he was in the locker room dancing around, him and Samuel, all the rest of the young guys. I looked over at Richard Sherman, 'Man, these guys keep us young, man.' Guys like that are good for the ecosystem of this team. Guys like me and Sherm are good for the playoff experience to let them understand the magnitude of what we need to accomplish. I think we've got a well-balanced team."
Sanders on how he can lean on his previous playoff experiences:
"You know what, if you asked me what does the playoff experience mean, I think it just comes naturally. I think the entire time since I got here, this team has been paying attention to the details. I can't sit back and say, 'Okay, this is the time for us to lock in.' I feel like we've been locked in all season, ever since I got here. When I talk about playoff experience, I say, 'Don't do too much.' I feel like when a lot of people get in the playoffs, they think they've got to do more, they've got to do more. At the end of the day, you're in the playoffs, you've already been winning games. Just remain who you are. I think it's kind of like what you were saying about staying loose. Those young guys, be who you are, dance. If you dance, dance. Whatever you were doing during the season, continue to continuously do that. That's going to help. I feel like a lot of people are going to overdo it, overthink it, which, in turn, can be a bad thing."
Sanders on if he's talked to Garoppolo about his first playoff start:
"No, I don't have to talk to Jimmy about that. Two Super Bowl rings that guy's got. He knows. He knows what it takes to go all the way and win it all. He's seen the preparation from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. At the end of the day, he understands the process."
Sanders on the progression of Bourne and Samuel since his arrival in Week 8:
"I didn't really know too much about them until I got here. Just to see Deebo and KB, how these guys practice, how they run through the ball, run after the catch, I was just like, 'You know what, let me try to fit in with these guys.' One thing about this league, you can be in Year 10, you can take a guy at Year 1, if you don't think you can learn from a guy in Year 1, you're not going to make it too long in this league. I feel like everybody can learn something from somebody. When I first got here, I saw these guys running to the ball, running after a catch. I said, 'Let me go and talk to them, ask him how he does it.' If you watch Kendrick Bourne run through the football, even when you go to games and there are a lot of guys in this league, I've been in this league a long time, they don't run to the football like that. He has exceptional hands. Deebo, the way he runs after a catch, that's something I try to pick up off those guys."
T Joe Staley on being back in the playoffs:
"Yeah, very exciting. Very exciting. Obviously, to be in this situation, haven't been here since 2013. Excited to get back in the playoffs, play meaningful football. Excited for the opportunity this week in a big game. Just excited. I don't really know what else to say, just excited for the opportunity."
Staley on what he tells the younger guys about playing in the playoffs:
"This is the stuff that can get a little bit distracting, the media coverage, like you said, the heightened awareness of what we're doing. As far as performance on the field, that's what we've been doing the whole entire season. I think that is the big thing to stress to the guys. I haven't made any speeches. I don't think anyone is going to make any big speeches about doing what we've done the whole entire season and preparing the way we prepared every single day. That's what's going to prepare us through the playoffs, prepare us for the game on Saturday, hopefully going forward. We can control what we can control. That's the practice we have today, the preparation we put in. You don't have to put any extra pressure on yourself that it's the playoffs. You don't have to do something different. It's all about doing exactly what you've done the whole entire year. That's why I think the habits and the routines that you build during the season are so important for opportunities like this. You don't have to reinvent the wheel at all."
Staley on why this is another typical game week for Garoppolo:
"The way he's been the whole entire time he's been here. The thing I always come back to when asked about Jimmy, the thing I respect the most about him, the guys in the locker room respect the most about him, is his preparation and work ethic. You see a lot of talented guys coming into the NFL throughout the years, but what guys really respect is the preparation and work ethic that he puts in. He's been the same guy since he's been here, since day one. He's going to try to be the most prepared person he can be. He is going to practice the same way every single day. Just the stuff I was talking about in the last question, really prevalent with Jimmy. The way he prepares. He's not going to try to reinvent anything. He is not going to try to do anything different. He is going to be the same quarterback, the same person he's been for this franchise since he's been here."
Staley on what challenges the Vikings defensive front presents the 49ers:
"The Vikings are very, very sound up front. They're a very sound defense. They have a lot of guys that have played in the system, played together for a long time. They know exactly where each other are going to be. It's really hard to get them out of position. So, it really just comes down to doing your techniques and your blocks. They have really talented players up front. (Vikings DE) Danielle Hunter and (Vikings DE) Everson Griffen have been a great edge pairing in the NFL for a long time. They both present unique challenges as far as tackles go. But, all across the board, you look at everybody, they're a very sound defense. They play well together."
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh on how Alexander looked in his first full padded practice since his injury:
"I thought he looked pretty good. I've got to go back and watch the tape, but watched him closely during our little tackling drill that we do before practice, just to let him get loose and get comfortable again. But, he's been building, he's been working for this for a while. It's going to be cool to see him out there if he can make it out there Saturday."
Saleh on the importance of stopping the Vikings run game:
"This is a run-first team. You've got to be able to stop the run. They do a really good job first and second down. They're very similar to our offense in regards to play-action pass, it's max pro, it's shots downfield, boots, run game. We've got to strap up our big-boy pads and get ready to play some ball this week."
Saleh on the challenges Cousins presents the 49ers defense:
"Same thing the stats show in that he's very, very decisive with the football. He knows exactly where he needs to go. The pre-snap movement of the defense or the post-snap movement of the defense doesn't really fool him very often. He knows, post-snap, by the time he hits his back foot, where the ball needs to go, he knows where everyone is on the football field. Because of it, he can make a very smart decision. To answer your question, it's his decision making in his mind and how quick it works when he's in his drop, all that stuff. He's worth every penny they pay him."
CB Richard Sherman on the type of lift it would be to get Ford, Alexander and Jaquiski Tartt back on the field Saturday:
"Three veteran players who were starters on this defense who make an impact. They all play at a high level. It will be great to have them back."
Sherman on the biggest challenge going up against the Vikings offense:
"Being disciplined. They run the ball well. (Vikings QB) Kirk (Cousins) is very efficient with what he does. He doesn't turn the ball over, doesn't make very many mistakes. Being on details just like they are, being locked in for 60 minutes."
Sherman on what makes Cousins efficient as a passer:
"He throws the ball away when he needs to. He throws the ball to the ground. He throws the ball into a spot when he has somebody open. At times, when other quarterbacks would force it in there, he doesn't. He looks down the field. He checks everything. He checks every box, then he goes to his outlets when he needs to. He's not afraid to do that. He doesn't get impatient. He'll take check downs all game if that's what the defense gives him."
TE George Kittle on his expectations for Garoppolo in his first-career playoff start:
"I'm not really worried. Jimmy has been doing it all year. Every primetime game he shows up, plays well. He's just going to do him and play really well. I just have that expectation of him. I have all the confidence in the world in him."
Kittle on the impact Sanders has made on the offense:
"Other than winning us three or four games by himself, him and Jimmy, pretty helpful. The greatest thing about him is he didn't have to learn anything. A guy like that, who has done it before, he was kind of in our offense with the (Denver) Broncos. He didn't have to learn anything. He just went out there and did it. The connection between him and Jimmy, it was instant. They didn't have to build a chemistry or anything like that. It's definitely been very helpful. I know Emmanuel is really excited to be here. Like I said, he's won us a couple games basically by himself. We're going to count on him going forward in these playoffs."
Kittle on what he's seen from the Vikings defense:
"They have a lot of different coverages and stuff. I mean, they do a good job. They focus on tight ends. I mean, whatever coach Shanahan has schemed up, I'm going to do that. It's been working for me so far this year, so I'm going to keep doing that."
LB Fred Warner on Cook's ability as a runner:
"Very good back. He's had an outstanding season. Great contact balance. He's looking to get downhill right now. In open space, he's a cutback player. Elusive. Yeah, we're going to have to make sure we're on top of it with him.
"His contact balance is really good. He's not the biggest back, but he plays a lot bigger than he is. He's strong. You know it's going to take more than arm tackles or just one guy. It's going to be a group tackling him, making sure everybody gets to the ball."
Warner on what stands out about Cousins on film:
"He makes good decisions. He can launch the football. Doesn't turn the ball over. That's all great things to win football games, obviously. It all starts with the run. Once they get the running game going, the pass opens up. Obviously, they've been very efficient in play-action passes."
Warner on having Alexander back at practice:
"It's been legendary. No, it's been really great. Just a different swag, energy out there when he's on the field. It's great having him back out there. He looks great. Should be fun having him back out there this weekend."
DL DeForest Buckner on the impact of having Ford and Alexander back at practice:
"Having their presence out there on the field, the energy. Obviously, Kwon always brings the energy. Having him on the field is a good feeling. Dee and Jaquiski, having them out there running around with the team, trying to get back in the flow of things is definitely encouraging."
Buckner on the challenge of defending Cook:
"They're a really good run team, especially with Dalvin Cook back there. Coming into this game, throughout the year, obviously against the run, hasn't been our strong suit throughout the year. I know they're definitely going to challenge us in the run game early. Especially with Dalvin Cook back there, he's one of the best in the league. We've just got to do a really good job with shutting that down early."
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer on the matchup against the 49ers:
"We're excited to have the opportunity to go to San Francisco and play in the second round of the playoffs. They're an excellent football team, well coached, terrific on both sides of the ball, good on special teams. We're going to have to go out and play really well to win."
Zimmer on the Vikings playoff experience:
"I do feel like us being in the NFC Championship game two years ago, we can draw on some things through that course of that process that we had. One thing is the number of media that's going to be out on the field before the game. As these games continue getting bigger, the distractions become bigger. I think we can draw on that. It's still going out and playing good football."
Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski on what stands out about the 49ers defensive front:
"What stands out is really good players. (Nick) Bosa is exceptional, the two players from Oregon that are six-foot seven (DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead). It's just great players, and you've heard it said, it's nothing new, they're playing the quarterback on the way to playing the run. It's just an impressive group, they get off the ball, and they're making a ton of plays. So our guys know that, and they know that it's a big challenge this week, but I think the caliber of player is very impressive and that it matches the scheme and what they're trying to do."
Stefanski on what he's seen out of Sherman in Year 9:
"I mean he's a great player. He is physically gifted, he's long, and he's got incredible ball skills. There's nobody smarter, you're not going to trick him. He's been doing it a long time. I just think the guy understands how to play in that scheme, and then at the end of the day you just see his football intelligence is off the charts."
Defensive coordinator George Edwards on what stands out about Kittle:
"Just the different places that they put him within formations and how they use his skillset. He's a good blocker when they ask him to block. He's good out of the backfield. He's good out at receiver. He does a lot of things for them offensively."
Edwards on the 49ers offense:
"You look at them offensively, there's a lot of shifting and motioning. There's a lot of using different guys to do different jobs. You have receivers in the backfield running the ball with No. 19 (Deebo Samuel), he does that quite a bit, like you said, run the option with the fullback. You've seen them run the option with number No. 13 (Richie James Jr.). He uses a lot of different people to do a lot of different jobs offensively. There's a lot of things that try to slow you down as far as your reaction and those kind of things. We have to do a good job of getting lined up, being disciplined with our eyes and when the ball turns over, execute."
Edwards on Garoppolo's 2019 season:
"He doesn't turn the ball over very much. You can see he's getting the ball out of his hands. He's getting good reads, getting the ball out of his hands. He's getting it to the playmakers, which they have a lot of playmakers on offense. The biggest thing is you can just tell he has a better feel for what they're trying to do schematically."
Edwards on the 49ers running backs:
"They're interchangeable. They use them throughout the game, throughout their offense. Like I said, running the ball, catching screens, going on pass routes, in protections, they seem to use all three and divide up the reps that way. All three of them are fully capable of making explosive plays."
QB Kirk Cousins on facing the 49ers:
"A very good football team, a great defense, well coached at their place. It will be a great challenge. We need to have a good week and put together a good plan."
WR Adam Thielen on his status for Saturday:
"They're long at every position, at every level. They're smart. You have a lot of guys that have played a lot of football and have a lot of experience in this league, which is very important. They're long, they're physical and they fly around. And they kind of have that mindset of their coaches – they're nasty, they're tough and they're ready to play on Sundays, or Saturdays, in this case. It'll be a good challenge, but at this point in the playoffs, that's what you're going to get, and you better be focused, and you better be determined, and you better be ready to go."
Thielen on the 49ers defense:
"You start with the front four. Obviously, Bosa gets a lot of the credit. They move him around a little bit. He moves from left to right some. Across the board they're very good. Armstead, Buckner, Solomon Thomas, they're really good. They're coached hard, they play really hard. They're really good with their line games and the movements which makes it very difficult. They're just very talented and they're well coached, and they play hard and with a lot of pride."
RB Dalvin Cook on the challenges the 49ers defensive front presents the Vikings:
"We know the challenge that they present up front. They've got a good front seven. Probably the best we'll face all year... We just have to go in and try to stay on schedule and that's running the football. Doing what we do."
WR Stefon Diggs on the 49ers defense:
"All around, they're a great defense and they've been playing some great football all year. They're active … got some great edge rushers, great linebackers, great DBs. It will be another challenge for us and we're excited."
Diggs on playing against Sherman:
"He's been one of the best players in our league for a very long time. Got a lot of respect for the guy. Very talented individual, smart. As far as the competitive juices, I've got them regardless."
DE Everson Griffen on Garoppolo's ability to get the ball out quick:
"You just can't get desperate, can't get frustrated, you just have to do your job. When he holds the ball that one time, you have to be locked in and be able to beat your guy to get the sack. We faced the same problems last week with Drew Brees. He got the ball out quick and what we have to do this week is don't get frustrated, don't get desperate and do our jobs."
T Brian O'Neill on the 49ers defensive front:
"They're probably the most talented group I've seen top to bottom in terms of the front seven this year, for sure. They've got horses at every position and they're good. It's a big opportunity for us, a big challenge to go meet them. We'll battle them. But we're pretty good players, too."
S Harrison Smith on Kittle:
"He's an awesome player. He's really active in everything. Run game — a great blocker and will block any type of player from a big guy on down. And in the pass game, not only does he run really good routes and is fast and athletic, but once he gets the ball, he has a great run-after-the-catch ability. He's tough."