Last week had top level teams falling in stunners proving that anyone can get upset. This week the 49ers became one of those teams.
The Minnesota Vikings outdid the San Francisco 49ers on every level and won for the home crowd 24-13. Leading the way, especially in the first half, was Christian Ponder who went 21/35 for 198 yards and 2 TD passes. From the very first drive which resulted in a TD pass from Ponder to TE Kyle Rudolph on a 4th and goal from the SF 1, Ponder and the Vikings offense controlled the game and ate the clock up while the 49ers struggled on both sides of the ball. Both teams are now 2-1 on the season as a result.
“The Vikings did a better job all the way around,” said 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh after their first loss of the year. “We didn’t get it done.”
Except for the 3rd quarter, the 49ers offense was stumped against the Vikings defense. Allowing the Touchdown on the first drive of the game sent the San Francisco offense out of sync the entire time. They weren’t used to playing behind in the first two games and this early deficit threw them off completely.
It seemed that Alex Smith was throwing way too much while abandoning the balanced offensive attack the team is known for. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter ran the ball 16 times the entire game for a combined 63 yards.
After a fumble recovery by the 49ers in the 4th quarter, Alex Smith pressed more as time waned down and threw an interception to Vikings Cornerback Josh Robinson with 2:18 left in regulation and still down by 11. That was his first INT thrown in 249 attempts which ends Smith franchise record of most passing attempts without throwing a pick. Then after another fumble recovery by the 49ers with under 2 minutes left, Alex Smith fumbles the ball after getting sacked by Jared Allen and it’s recovered by Brian Robinson of Minnesota.
Smith’s overall performance was shaky going 24/35 for 205 yards with 1 TD pass and the INT mentioned earlier. That one TD pass was to TE Vernon Davis for one yard in the 3rd quarter.
Just as responsible for the loss was the defense for the 49ers. They were not prepared for Christian Ponder’s passing style early on and they were not ready for his mobility either. On top of the two TDs he threw in this game, he also had a running TD for 23 yards up the middle evading just a couple tacklers for the score in the 2nd quarter. He was never sacked the entire game though the pressure did get to him a couple times as 49ers Safety Donte Whitner dropped a sure INT late in the game that started with the pass rush.
Percy Harvin was a big reason for the success for the passing attack as he managed to keep ball moving for the Vikings. He made 9 grabs for 89 yards and ran the ball once for 9 yards. He was a dependable target for Ponder and one the Niner DB’s couldn’t get a beat on.
However, with Adrian Peterson as your RB, you never abandon the run. Peterson ran the ball 25 times for 86 yards in the game and caught two balls for 21 yards. Despite the low production from the backfield against the linebackers of the 49ers, the Vikings kept running the ball and racked up 146 yards rushing as a team. It wasn’t pretty but it kept the 49ers defense off balanced.
The Vikings had more total yards (344 to 280) and fewer penalties (6 to 1) than the 49ers. They also had fewer turnovers (3 to 2) with all of them committed in the 4th quarter by both sides. The Vikings also controlled the clock having it for nearly 33 and half minutes.
“There’s going to be good, there’s going to be bad,” Harbaugh said, “today was a bad day. We will not sulk a bit, complain a bit, can’t complain, point fingers, just have to suck it up and we’ll do that.”
As part of a few side stories, WR Randy Moss caught the ball 3 times for 27 yards in his return to Minnesota. Moss said of his former team “I know the Vikings have always played teams tough, especially when they’re an underdog. That’s Minnesota football.”
Officiating wasn’t much of an issue in this game though at one point late in the 4th quarter the replacement refs seemed to have memory loss. Jim Harbaugh challenged one of the plays in which Vikings RB Toby Gerhart carried the ball. Gerhart appeared to have fumbled the ball before going down but was called down on the play. Harbaugh challenged the ruling and it was overturned as it was recovered by a 49er defender. The problem was that Harbaugh used his last timeout right after that play ended and the refs shouldn’t have reviewed it. Instead, they did go to the booth eventually giving the 49ers the ball and their timeout back.
Seeing how the rest of the game went, the call didn’t matter. The right team still won that game by taking the 49ers game plan and using it against them. For the Vikings, this win was a moral boost. “It’s huge for the rest of our season. It’s a springboard,” Kyle Rudolph said.
For the 49ers, however, it’s a wake up call to get back to basics. “It’s not like us to go out and lose like that,” Vernon Davis said after the game. “I have to watch the film and see the mistakes we made before I critique the game. … They came out to play, they came out to win. All we can do is respect that, get back in the office and get better.”
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Written by Daniel Trucios