The underdog Vikings were able to prove doubters wrong by outplaying one of the elite NFL teams.
By TYLER MASONFS North
MINNEAPOLIS — The
San Francisco 49ers were supposed to be one of the best teams in the NFL. After beating Green Bay at Lambeau Field and taking care of Detroit in Week 2, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh's team came to Minnesota as heavy favorites against the 1-1
Minnesota wasn't supposed to hang around for long, let alone
win Sunday's game at Mall of America Field. But from the opening drive to the closing minutes, the Vikings were the better team, topping the visiting 49ers by a 24-13 final.
Previously unbeaten San Francisco wouldn't sugar coat its loss, either.
"There's going to be good, there's going to be bad. Today was a bad day," Harbaugh said. "We can't sulk about it, can't complain (or) point fingers. We've just got to suck it up."
It was a bad day for the 49ers, touted by many as one of the premier teams in the NFL. But it was certainly a good day for the Vikings, who narrowly escaped their season opener with a win against Jacksonville and lost last week on the road to rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts.
Not much was expected this season of the Vikings, who are still in rebuilding mode after going 3-13 last season. But after second-year quarterback Christian Ponder led Minnesota on a 16-play, 82-yard scoring drive to open the game, the Vikings led the entire way.
The 49ers trailed 17-3 at the half, an unfamiliar situation for them during this young season. San Francisco appeared to have turned the momentum around right out of the gates after halftime as wide receiver Kyle Williams took the opening kickoff 94 yards to the Minnesota 14-yard line, but the 49ers settled for a field goal to cut the Vikings lead to 17-6.
Twice in the red zone, San Francisco was unable to hit pay dirt. The inability to find the end zone was killer for quarterback Alex Smith and the 49ers offense. But thanks in part to Minnesota's defense and in part San Francisco's inability to execute in the red zone -- Smith and Randy Moss couldn't connect for an easy touchdown pass -- the 49ers could never claw back to within more than four points.
"They came out and executed better than us," Smith said of the Vikings. ". . . When you're only putting up 13 points on offense, it's usually not going to get it done. I'm not going to speak to anything on the defensive side of the ball. We've got to get better. We didn't execute well enough in the red zone . . .
"A lot we can get better on, for sure."
In beating San Francisco, the Vikings did something few teams have been able to do against the 49ers in recent memory: run the football. San Francisco held opponents to just 77.2 rushing yards per game last season, far and away the best in the NFL. Through two games this year against the Packers and Lions, the 49ers had given up just 63.5 yards per game on the ground, sixth-fewest in football.
Minnesota more than doubled that total by racking up 146 yards on the ground, including 86 yards on 25 carries from running back Adrian Peterson. Leading up to this Sunday's matchup, Peterson -- coming off ACL surgery he suffered last season -- talked about how the 49ers had yet to face a rushing attack like the Vikings.
Perhaps he was right.
"They put pants on one leg at a time like us," Peterson said of the 49ers. "We knew they were a physical defense and we were going to match it. We were going to pound the ball to keep them honest and do what we do. Overall, it was a good team effort."
Both teams left Mall of America Field feeling much different about their identical 2-1 records. For the Vikings, that 2-1 mark has to feel like a positive. Minnesota has nearly equaled last season's win total and beat one of the NFL's elite teams in the process.
"It just shows us that we know what we're capable of," said Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway. "They're a good football team. They didn't play the best football game today. That's fine. We got them in our own place and we should own this place. That's how it should be. That should be our mentality."
San Francisco, meanwhile, leaves Minnesota disappointed at its 2-1 record. The 49ers locker room was quiet after the loss, with players perhaps a bit confused as they tried to piece together what just took place.
With Sunday's loss, a bit of the 49ers' luster was lost. While San Francisco may not have been expected to go 16-0, it wasn't supposed to lose this game.
"You still have to play every Sunday, every game. You can't think the game is just going to be given to you, especially when (the media) is hyping us up and saying we're that good," said 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman. "Guys are trying to knock us off. We just have to be prepared for it and be ready to fight every single game."
All the hype surrounding Sunday's game was certainly directed the 49ers' way. That was just fine with Minnesota, who is now 2-1 entering next weekend's road game against the Lions.
For now, the Vikings will enjoy the moment and ride the momentum of its win against a team nobody believed they could beat.
"I'm sure Vegas had us underdogs," said Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield. "We went out there and did our jobs. Sorry for those people that lost their money."