|Vikings QB Christian Ponder threw two touchdown passes to lead the Vikings to an upset over the 49ers on Sunday in Minnesota. (AP)|
After the Vikings' last-second loss last week in Indianapolis, few anticipated they would right their ship and return home to the Metrodome and hand the San Francisco 49ers their first loss of the season. But the Vikings played a solid game on both sides of the ball, leading to a convincing 24-13 victory and a share of the NFC North Division lead.
Notoriously slow-starters, the Vikings (2-1) took the opening drive down the field and scored on a one-yard TD pass from QB Christian Ponder to TE Kyle Rudolph on fourth and goal from the 1. The pair hooked up for a second touchdown later in the game, and they were a lethal combo all afternoon as the 49ers defense focused on WR Percy Harvin and RB Adrian Peterson.
The 49ers (2-1) came to Minneapolis riding a two-game winning streak over two 2011 playoff teams, and they never seemed to get off the bus. Sluggish and slightly off for much of the game, the offense never really got untracked. Playing behind the whole game, QB Alex Smith did enough to keep the 40ers in it, and when the Vikings RB Toby Gerhart fumbled for third time late in the fourth quarter, the 49ers still had a chance. But Vikings DE Jared Allen strip-sacked Smith and DE Brian Robison recovered the fumble to cement the victory for Minnesota.
“The Vikings did a better job than we did all the way around,” said 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. “We didn't get it done. There are a lot of reasons for that. We're not going to start pointing fingers or making excuses for any of those.”
When the game turned: The Vikings defense had trouble in their previous two games holding the opposition from scoring before the ends of halves, but they turned that around against San Francisco. With less two minutes remaining in the first half, the 49ers were marching into Vikings territory. The Minnesota defense stiffened and held them to a field-goal attempt. Vikings NT Letroy Guion blocked the field goal with 52 seconds remaining. The Vikings moved quickly up the field and K Blair Walsh kicked a 53-yard field as time ran out. The 6-point swing gave the Vikings 17-3 halftime lead and a lot of momentum going into the locker room.
Highlight moments: On the Vikings' opening drive, they were left with 4th and goal at the Niners' 1-yard line. The lobbying to go for it began on the sideline, and moments later, Ponder scrambled and hit Rudolph racing to the back corner of the end zone.
But that was not Rudolph's biggest catch of the day. In the fourth quarter with the 49ers creeping back to within 4 points (17-13), Ponder lobbed a soft pass to a completely covered Rudolph, who somehow reached behind his defender and stretched out his oven-mitt sized hand to make a one-handed touchdown grab as he was falling to the turf.
- QB Christian Ponder -- 21 of 35 for 198 yards and 2 touchdown passes, no interceptions. Ponder was aggressive from the start, and while his numbers did not match up to last week, his game management exceeded it. He kept numerous plays alive with feet and hit several receivers on the run, and then he capped off the performance with a 23-yard run up the middle in which he dived into the end zone for the first rushing touchdown of his career.
- Vikings WR Percy Harvin -- He was the team's leading receiver for the third game in a row, catching nine passes for 89 yards. Coming into the game, Harvin caught 18 of 21 passes thrown to him and he caught nine of 11 more against the 49ers. The performance allowed him to set team records for most receptions after three games and most combined net yards after three games.
- San Francisco KR Kyle Williams -- He had two returns for 144 yards, including one 94-yarder that nearly turned the game around at the start of the second half. The Vikings held the Niners to a field goal.
What they said about two Toby Gerhart fumble challenges and what seemed to be extra time outs for the 49ers:
- Vikings coach Leslie Frazier -- “It's one of those things we are going to have get some clarification about on Monday. I'd mess it up if I tried to explain it you. There were some head-scratchers, there is no question about it.”
What they said about a near interception by safety Donte Whitner that could have been a pick six:
- 49ers safety Donte Whitner -- “I dropped the ball. My hands are terrible."
What they said about Kyle Rudolph's one-handed touchdown grab:
- Coach Leslie Frazier -- “I gave him a high-five after the play, and he said ‘Coach, you know I make those kind of catches.' The confidence he has and the confidence Christian has in him shows up.”
Numbers you should know: Gerhart fumbled the ball three times in the span of 1:33 in the fourth quarter to keep the 49ers' hopes alive. Two of them were challenge plays that appeared to give San Francisco some extra time outs. But two of the fumbles went to the 49ers. ... Niners RB Frank Gore rushed 12 times for 63 yards, and he appeared at times just one slipped tackle from breaking a long one. His yards were primarily between the tackles and were very tough yards.
The Vikings, who last week committed 11 penalties for 105 yards, committed only one penalty for 10 yards against the 49ers. The 49ers, one the other hand, committed six penalties for 60 yards, which helped more than one Vikings drive stay alive. That disparity, along with the turnover battle (which the Vikings won 3-2), were big factors in the game.
Injury update: Vikings safety Mistral Raymond injured his ankle early in the second quarter of the game and did not return. Frazier said after the game that while he thought the injury was serious, he wouldn't know how bad it was until Monday.
Going forward: The Vikings travel to Detroit to take on the Lions next Sunday for their first NFC North Division game. This game is pivotal for the Vikings and their chances to keep pace in the division. ... The 49ers are leaving after the game for Youngstown, Ohio, without returning home to San Francisco. They play the New York Jets next Sunday and will prepare in Youngstown all week, like they did last season.
For more Vikings news and notes, follow Joe Oberle on Twitter @CBSVikings.