Also: The Dalvin Cook era is back on, and the Mike Hughes era promises to be a whole lot of fun.
The Minnesota Vikings didn't quite deliver on a summer's worth of hype in Week 1, but the various elements that should make them a contender by season's end were all there.
That was enough to put a dent in the legend of Jimmy Garoppolo, whose San Francisco 49ers fell 24-16 to a Vikings squad that, while effective, had the air of a team working out a few lingering glitches.
Cousins made his much-anticipated Vikings debut, throwing for a respectable 244 yards and two touchdowns, while showing off some unexpected nerve (more on that later). He flashed some instant chemistry with Cook, who hasn't lost a step, particularly in the passing game, despite a long recovery from a torn ACL.
Meanwhile, head coach Mike Zimmer's dominant defense looked sharp. Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith made key players, while newcomers Hughes and Sheldon Richardson made an early impact.
Read on for our recap of Sunday's game (Story | Photos)
Plenty of guys showed out in Week 1, but it was Hughes, the rookie corner, who played like he had something to prove. Perhaps he did, after critics spent the offseason questioning the Vikings' decision to draft another defensive back in the first round instead of supplementing their offensive line. Regardless, the rookie immediately looked like he belongs. Hughes snatched up his first career interception after the Vikings' first drive of the second half stalled out. The Vikings' fearsome pass rush did its thing, and Hughes was there to scoop up Garoppolo's errant throw, trotting 28 yards to the end zone to put Minnesota up 17-3. He came through again a few plays later, breaking up a touchdown pass intended for Pierre Garcon, finishing with three tackles.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
Cousins has commanded the lion's share of the spotlight since signing with the Vikings over the summer, but Cook is effectively a newcomer after playing in just four games as a rookie. He lived up to the hype in his return to action, racking up 95 all-purpose yards on 22 touches. And while those rushing stats don't jump off the page -- 40 yards on 16 carries -- his early rapport with Cousins looks to be a major asset. His biggest gains of the day -- 12 yards, 17 yards and 15 yards -- all came on quick throws from Cousins. He passed the eye test with flying colors, looking every bit like the dynamic rookie who dazzled for a few weeks last September. Even Cook's fumble early in the second quarter came only after he had already danced his way through the 49ers' defense. Once on pace to rush for nearly 1,500 yards as a rookie, Cook looks no worse for wear after his lengthy recovery.
The Vikings were attempting to grind out a win up 24-16 late in the fourth quarter when their running game stalled out. Cousins, as stoic a pocket passer as there has ever been, unexpectedly took matters into his own hands on third-and-five, taking off and diving head first for that final yard. The Vikings' $84 million man came up just short, but finished his heart-stopping run on the next play, drawing the 49ers offsides to give the Vikings a fresh set of downs with less than three minutes to go.
4 -- All eyes were on Cousins and that revamped Vikings' offense, but Zimmer's defense was once again the story. Minnesota forced four turnovers, picking off Garoppolo three times (his first such game) and snapping up an Alfred Morris fumble with the 49ers just inches away from a touchdown. The usual suspects did their thing, but it was the play of the newcomers that really stood out. Hughes showed off his vast potential, while defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was a force, racking up six tackles and chipping in on a sack.
THEY SAID IT
"We had played too hard at that point to just slide early and give up on that." -- Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins
"Hey, when the game's on the line, we're trying to get the first down. Go for it. I'm all in." -- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer
"It's just all about getting going. We're gonna go back to the drawing board and get this thing going." -- Vikings running back Dalvin Cook
The Vikings face their first major test in Week 2: The Green Bay Packers. At Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers was emphatic when asked if he'd be available for this early-season showdown: "I'm playing next week," he said, despite leaving Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears in the first half with a knee injury. He returned in the second half, orchestrating a 20-point comeback and leading the Packers to a win. After watching Khalil Mack run roughshod on the Packers' offensive line, Zimmer should be salivating.