Vikings hand 49ers their first loss with 24-13 win
While Randy Moss was short-arming throws his way over the middle and shying away from contact, Christian Ponder was throwing darts and fearlessly sprinting through the teeth of San Francisco's ferocious defense.
In one afternoon, Minnesota Vikings fans may have finally started moving on from the electric receiver that once revived the franchise in favor of a charismatic young quarterback who is trying to do the same nearly 15 years later.
Ponder threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for another score to lead the Vikings to a convincing 24-13 victory over Moss and the previously-undefeated 49ers on Sunday.
''The more plays I get, the more film I watch, it slows down and I just feel so much more comfortable in what I'm doing,'' said Ponder, who completed 21 of 35 passes and still hasn't thrown an interception this season. ''And it helps when the players around you are playing so well.''
Kyle Rudolph caught both TD passes, Percy Harvin had nine catches for 89 yards and the rebuilding Vikings defense forced three turnovers by a 49ers team that has been historically good at taking care of the ball. It all added up to perhaps the most unlikely victory of the week, a seven-point underdog that has finished dead last in the NFC North for two straight seasons dominating a team many tabbed as the class of the conference after impressive victories over Green Bay and Detroit.
''Guys are trying to knock us off,'' 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. ''So we need to be prepared for it and fight every game.''
One week after losing at Indianapolis, the Vikings (2-1) came out more determined, focusing enough to not let some glaring mistakes from the replacement officiating crew even get in their way. Twice in a six-play span, the 49ers were allowed to withdraw a called timeout to challenge a play instead. The first one was reversed, a fumble by Toby Gerhart given to the 49ers after video review.
''There were some head-scratchers, there's no question about it,'' Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. ''But just proud of our guys. We talked about this during the week, of not getting caught up in anything other than just playing the next play.''
Alex Smith was 24 for 35 for 204 yards with one touchdown and one interception, a poorly thrown pass late in the fourth quarter that landed in rookie Josh Robinson's arms and snapped a string of 249 straight attempts without an interception.
The 49ers fell behind early when Ponder zipped a beauty of a pass off his back foot on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to Rudolph for the touchdown. San Francisco's offense committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter and safety Donte Whitner dropped an interception that could have gone for a touchdown.
''I dropped the ball,'' Whitner said. ''My hands are terrible.''
Moss' hands, and his blazing speed, made him an instant sensation when the Vikings drafted him in 1998. One of the most popular players in team history, he was largely responsible for a sellout streak at the Metrodome that began his rookie season and didn't end until the opener this year.
Moss was cheered when he was announced before the game, but he managed just three catches for 27 yards, a far cry from the force he used to be in purple. He dropped the first pass thrown his way, drawing a few audible laughs from a Minnesota crowd that has adored him no matter his transgressions on the field or off, including a disastrous second stint here in 2010.
''I want to thank the Vikings fans for the love,'' Moss said. ''I really appreciate the love that they give, and we just didn't pull it through today.''
They're redirecting that love Ponder's way now. The mobile quarterback rolled away from pressure all afternoon and blew the roof off the place in the second quarter when he tucked the ball and sprinted right up the middle, streaking past Whitner and lunging into the end zone for a 23-yard TD run that gave the Vikings a 14-3 lead.
And just when the 49ers threatened, pulling to 17-13 on a TD from Smith to Vernon Davis, Ponder directed a 12-play, 86-yard scoring drive that included a brilliant, one-handed catch from Rudolph for a 2-yard TD.
''It was huge for this team, and I know for him it was a huge accomplishment'' to go excel against one of the best defenses in the league, Harvin said. ''So to go out there and have a complete game builds confidence.''
NOTES: Adrian Peterson rushed for 86 yards on 25 carries for the Vikings. ... Frank Gore managed just 63 yards on 12 carries for San Francisco and lost a fumble. He passed Roger Craig for the most career rushing attempts in 49ers history. ... Moss moved past Tim Brown into fourth place on the NFL's all-time receiving list with 14,946 yards. ... Vikings FS Mistral Raymond's right ankle rolled awkwardly while trying to tackle Gore at the end of the first quarter. He left on a cart and was on crutches afterward. ... 49ers LB Patrick Willis walked gingerly off the field with an injury to his lower right leg and DT Isaac Sopoaga hurt his lower left leg in the fourth quarter. Coach Jim Harbaugh said both players would be X-rayed and re-evaluated.
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