Not even Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers — the team that after last week’s win over Detroit was crowned as the No. 1 or 2 team in the league by almost every paid analyst — can succeed in the Metrodome. It wasn’t as brutally shocking as Brett Favre’s last second touchdown bomb back in 2009, but Sunday’s 24-13 loss (their fifth consecutive defeat in Minnesota) was certainly more of a surprise.
One could blame any number of things for this unexpected loss to a Vikings team that went 3-13 last season. In honor of Mike Singletary coaching for the Vikings, the 49ers adopted one of his old gameplans from 2010; Alex Smith seemed to regress back to what we’ve seen from him before; Frank Gore fumbled; Donte Whitner looked bad on several plays, especially when he dropped what would have been an interception he could’ve returned for a touchdown; on defense the 49ers were completely unprepared to stop Kyle Rudolph and were outworked on certain plays by a magically healed Adrian Peterson.
The replacement officials will get some of the blame, and they seemed to be perhaps overly appreciative of the Vikings’ nearly flawless execution (Minnesota was only called for one penalty, offensive holding). But the Vikings deserved to win after prevailing in these categories:
- First downs (25-19)
- Total yards (344-280)
- Passing yards (198-191)
- Rushing yards (146-89)
- Sacks (3-0)
- Time of possession (33:28-26:32)
- Turnovers forced (3-2)
And subjectively speaking,Christian Ponder outplayed Smith.
The 49ers had their chances to win ugly, but couldn’t convert when opportunities arose. Kyle Williams returned a kickoff 94 yards, the 49ers ended with a field goal. The Vikings blocked a field goal, then followed with one of their own. There was the aforementioned Whitner drop with nothing but end zone in his vision.
Jim Harbaugh will probably deny that overconfidence hurt the 49ers on this day, but that had to have been a factor — especially with how bad Minnesota looked at Candlestick Park in the first game of the preseason. The fury we saw early on against Green Bay and Detroit wasn’t there in the first half, and the 49ers ventured through the game as if they collectively thought “don’t worry, we’ll pull something out of our asses at the end against this crappy team.” When Gore fumbled in their first offensive play after the Vikings’ last touchdown, the so-called crappy team clearly had the upper hand. When Smith was intercepted for the first time in almost 250 passes, the game was toast — despite Toby Gerhart’s desire to help out his former coach by fumbling repeatedly near the end.
So the 49ers’ hearts should actually BE humble this time as they move forward and try to move on after a dispiriting loss. Here are five questions San Francisco might look to answer in Youngstown, Ohio this week as they prepare for the New York Jets (who won 23-20 in Miami):
1. Pass first, finish second in the NFC West?
The 49ers only gave Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter 16 carries combined, and seemed a little too intent on establishing the pass in the first half. Now, Gore did fumble and Hunter was pretty much useless, but Gore also averaged 5.3 ypc and the 49ers’ defense looked exhausted in the fourth quarter. Alex Smith was quite efficient in the first two games of the season, but the 49ers aren’t a team that can win when facing a bunch of third-and-longs.
I can’t help but think the 49ers will at least consider activating LaMichael James in the next week or two — Hunter had 4 carries for 0 yards, and probably lost the kickoff return job to Kyle Williams as well. It isn’t time to give up on Hunter, but it might be time to liven things up a little and James can probably do more damage as a receiver.
2. How long will Randy Moss be on his best behavior?
Moss may just be tired of answering that question. He could be perfectly happy with how the 49ers are using him. But after a loss in which Smith lamented two different failed attempts to hook up with the future Hall of Famer afterward, Moss’ mindset is a natural concern. It’s not as much of a concern as the 49ers scoring only 13 points against a team nobody thought had the slightest chance of making the playoffs, but no one can truly predict how this partnership between Moss and Smith will go.
3. Are teams catching up to Michael Crabtree?
He made six catches … for only 40 yards. It might not be Crabtree’s primary strength, but the 49ers might want to change things up and try to connect with Crabtree on a pass longer than 6 yards to keep opposing defenses honest.
4. Are Patrick Willis and Isaac Sopoaga okay?
If Sopoaga isn’t, the 49ers are going to have to hope Ricky Jean Francois can stop the run better than he did after Sopoaga left the game. Both Willis and Sopoaga will get x-rays, but walked without limping according to Matt Maiocco.
5. How will the 49ers respond the next time they’re road favorites?
It’s going to happen soon, maybe even as soon as next week in The Meadowlands. But even if this loss knocks the 49ers down a peg among the national observers, they’re a far better team than they showed in Minnesota and they’ll climb back to the top of your favorite power rankings in time. If one good thing came out of this loss, it’s that the 49ers know they can’t win on the strength of Skip Bayless proclamations; they’ll need to play with the urgency and anger that brought them to the point where they were favored by 7 points on the road for the first time in forever.