Vikings grade out well against 49ers
After a week of team meetings and speeches, the Minnesota Vikings had the chance to prove things would be different this season with the San Francisco 49ers coming to the Metrodome.
Minnesota challenged itself, knowing it would be underdogs against undefeated San Francisco. The Vikings then showed the potential they have to beat any team by winning 24-13 on Sunday.
"It just shows us that we know what we're capable of," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "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. We should be 8-0 here and win half on the road, that's 12-4."
Mentality played a big role for the Vikings this week, matching the physical 49ers.
Here's how Minnesota handled one of the favorites in the NFC:
Pass offense: A
The final numbers won't stand out, but the Vikings' passing game came up with nearly every play it needed. Minnesota set the tone for the entire game on the first drive when quarterback Christian Ponder was 6 of 8 passing and connected with Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown on fourth down from the 1-yard line. Ponder again didn't force any balls, and avoided interceptions. The offensive line, with the help of Ponder's scrambling, also handled San Francisco's strong pass rush with Ponder not taking a sack.
Ponder found Rudolph for two touchdowns, including a second by Rudolph when he was blanketed by a safety and made a nifty falling catch. Ponder only had 198 yards passing, but was 21 of 35 and was a big part in Minnesota converting half of its first downs (7 of 14). Percy Harvin had another big game, with nine catches for 89 yards. Rudolph had five catches for 36 yards and the two scores.
Run offense: B+
The running game gets graded on a curve this week against one of the top run defenses in the league. The Vikings stayed with the run, staying physical with 41 rushing attempts as a team. They only had 3.6 yards-per-rush, but seemed to wear down San Francisco's defense in the second half. Minnesota finished with 146 yards rushing as a team, the most yards against the 49ers on the ground in over 21 games dating back to the 2010 season. Ponder also ran for a 23-yard touchdown, the first rushing score against San Francisco this season after the 49ers gave up three all of last season.
Adrian Peterson took the workhorse load, running for 86 yards on 25 carries, and had a 20-yard run in the fourth quarter while the 49ers defense appeared to be tiring. The only thing that keeps this grade from even being higher was backup Toby Gerhart's three fumbles, two of which San Francisco recovered. At one point, Gerhart fumbled on three of four carries.
Pass defense: B
Quarterback Alex Smith, while playing a conservative game, has been one of the key reasons why the 49ers have done so well the past two seasons, in part by taking care of the football. Smith had entered Sunday's game with over 200 pass attempts since his last interception in November of last season. Of all teams, the Vikings snapped the streak. Minnesota only had eight interceptions last year and didn't have one through the first two games this year, but rookie cornerback Josh Robinson came up with a big interception late in the game. Minnesota also sacked Smith three times, with Jared Allen's first of the season coming on San Francisco's last offensive play by stripping Smith at the same time. Greenway added two sacks.
Smith finished 24 of 35 for 204 yards and Minnesota kept the 49ers from big plays in the passing game. Receiver Randy Moss had a subpar game in his return to the Metrodome. The Vikings also handled tight end Vernon Davis, aside from one drive when Davis caught a 20-yard pass and added a touchdown. Minnesota's young secondary stepped forward, even after losing starting safety Mistral Raymond to a potentially serious ankle injury.
Run defense: B+
The Vikings wanted to prove they are still the pre-eminent run defense in the NFL while going against the perceived best unit in San Francisco. Minnesota demonstrated its still has some juice after falling off last season in the department after annually leading the league in stopping the run. San Francisco ran for 89 yards on 20 carries. Perhaps the most surprising aspect is the 49ers didn't stick with the running game, with Frank Gore averaging 5.3 yards-per-carry.
The end numbers look strong for Minnesota, but even the Vikings probably aren't happy about giving up 5.3-yards on Gore's carries. Smith added four rushes for 26 yards. Backup running back Kendall Hunter had four carries for zero yards. Minnesota wanted to be physical and prove to the NFL that it's still among the best run-stopping units and it succeeded, in part, to getting a double-digit lead and San Francisco only giving Gore 12 carries.
Special teams: C
The Vikings special teams coverage units almost put the team in a bad spot with a major momentum shift to start the second half. On the opening kickoff of the second half, 49ers returner Kyle Williams took a kick 94 yards to put San Francisco in scoring range. Minnesota's defense came on and forced a three-and-out and the 49ers had to settle for a field goal. Williams added another 50-yard return on his next chance as well. In all, the Vikings gave up 193 yards on four returns, a 48.3-yard average.
Punter Chris Kluwe had one miskick, that allowed a good return, but was strong otherwise. Kicker Blair Walsh became the first Vikings player to record field goals of 50-plus yards in three straight games, and also became the first rookie in league history to do so in the first three games of his career. Walsh is still perfect through three games with seven field goals and seven point-after attempts. Walsh hit a 52-yard field goal at the end of the first half, again showing pressure isn't an issue and giving Minnesota a 17-3 halftime lead. Walsh's field goal was part of a six-point swing before halftime as the Vikings blocked a Joe Nedney field goal attempt and came down and put Walsh in position for his big kick.
Few people would have given Minnesota a chance against the 49ers going into Sunday coming off the previous week's loss at Indianapolis. There were still minor mistakes, but the Vikings avoided the crucial issues that led to the previous week's loss. San Francisco was 4 of 10 on third downs, an issue over the first two weeks for Minnesota's defense. After committing 11 penalties for 105 yards the previous week, the Vikings were only charged with one 10-yard penalty. Minnesota also won the turnover battle, 3-2, despite Gerhart's late fumbles. The Vikings went the first 56 minutes, 27 seconds and had a 24-13 lead before their first turnover. In all, Minnesota challenged itself to be the type of team they preach, limiting turnovers and penalties, playing smart, physically tough football, and they did so against the team that has embodied that style for the past year.
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