SANTA CLARA – Jimmy Garoppolo, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey drove over to Levi’s Stadium early for the 49ers’ playoff opener Saturday, anxious to resume their Super Bowl quest.
“It’s the earliest I’ve ever been here,” Staley said. “I did my normal routine, then I realized how much time I had left, and said, ‘Why did I do this so early?’ ”
Why a 9 a.m. arrival for a 1:35 p.m. kickoff? Probably because this 49ers team might offer the best shot in Staley’s 13-year career to win a Super Bowl championship, and the franchise’s first in 25 years.
Once the top-seeded 49ers reserved a spot in the NFC Championship Game by virtue of Saturday’s 27-10 divisional-round win over the No. 6 Minnesota Vikings, platitudes rightfully were bestowed upon their suffocating defense, a 47-carry rushing attack and the “masterpiece” game plan crafted by coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
Next up is next Sunday’s bid at a Super Bowl XLIV berth. Levi’s Stadium will host that NFC Championship Game between the 49ers (14-3) hosting Sunday’s winner between the No. 5-seed Seattle Seahawks and No. 3 Green Bay Packers.
“Can’t wait to watch these games tomorrow and find out who we’re playing,” said coach Kyle Shanahan, who indeed should be interested in the AFC playoffs considering his team’s Lombardi Trophy potential.
Told that next Sunday’s kickoff is set for 3:40 p.m., Staley replied: “That’ll be good, then I can sleep in a little bit.” That wasn’t the case before this game. Staley went to bed at 10:30 p.m., awoke at 1 a.m. minutes for 30 minutes, awoke again at 3, then fell back asleep until 6.
“As I get older, I can’t sleep very well. I’ve been noticing that the whole entire season,” Staley said. “I just get anxious for games now.”
That passion to play in high-stakes games drove four 49ers back from injury to start against the Vikings – defensive end Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander, safety Jaquiski Tartt and right guard Mike Person.
“That’s what we look like when we’re healthy,” cornerback Richard Sherman said of a full-squad defense.
With Dalvin Cook limited to 18 rushing yards, the Vikings didn’t fare much better in the air with Kirk Cousins, who got intercepted by Sherman and got sacked six times, including twice by rookie Nick Bosa.
The sold-out crowd of 71,649 went silent and 49ers defenders took a knee while trainers tended to Bosa after he got hurt on a third-down sack with 12:50 remaining in the game. Not even a minute later, Bosa bounced up smiling and cheered on the crowd as he ran to the sideline rather than the medical tent.
“Just got the wind knocked out of him,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I thought he sat and milked his injury for a little bit to hear the crowd chant his name. Nah, he’s been a stud on and off the field.”