Two weeks in, the 49ers are playing like one of the NFL's very best teams – and you can shake on…
49ers vs. Vikings: Thumbs up and thumbs down
Thumbs down: Alex Smith hadn't committed a turnover since last Thanksgiving, but he sure picked a bad time to cough up the ball Sunday, throwing a killer interception and then losing a fumble in a span of three San Francisco offensive plays in the final 2:30 with the Niners still clinging to faint comeback hopes. Smith missed a wide-open Michael Crabtree with a badly overthrown pass that was picked, perhaps his worst pass of the season, ending Smith's franchise-record string of passes without an interception at 249. He then fumbled 37 seconds later at the Minnesota 35-yard line to end all hope.
Thumbs down: After grabbing hold of the momentum and getting right back in the game with 10 points in the first nine minutes of the second half, the Niners allowed the Vikings to march 86 yards in 12 plays to a touchdown that gave control of the game back to Minnesota entering the fourth quarter. The 49ers aided the Vikings in their stroll down the field with three penalties, including two for unnecessary roughness and another for a defensive holding that gave Minnesota a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line.
Thumbs down: And needing to answer right back after that touchdown, the Niners get a 50-yard kickoff return from Kyle Williams only to see Frank Gore fumble at midfield with the Vikings recovering on the next play. It was Gore's first lost fumble in 244 touches – the longest streak of his career without a turnover – but what a bad time for it to come. It also ended a string of 43 consecutive regular-season quarters without losing a fumble for the 49ers.
Thumbs up: So on the bright side… How about those kickoff returns by Williams? He burst through the heart of Minnesota's coverage unit for a 94-yard return of the second-half kickoff to give the Niners a spark, then darted 50 yards on his next return. That's a 72.0-yard average for Williams on kickoff returns, and he also had a nice 16-yard punt return.
Thumbs down: But after Williams' longest return set up the 49ers with a first down at the Minnesota 14, the Niners bogged down in the red zone and had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by David Akers – just as they did after reaching the Minnesota 11 early in the second quarter.
Thumbs down: The Niners also came away with nothing to show for a 12-play, 51-yard drive in the second quarter when Akers' 43-yard attempt – usually a gimme field goal for him – was blocked in the middle of the line.
Thumbs up: On the one time San Francisco did succeed with a touchdown in the red zone, Vernon Davis was the guy celebrating in the end zone, reeling in his fourth scoring pass in three games. Davis is a tremendous red zone target, and he also beat tight coverage and made a nice over-the-shoulder catch for a 20-yard gain on the play before his 1-yard TD catch.
Thumbs down: It was not an auspicious return to Minnesota for Randy Moss, who had one pass go off his fingertips when he was alone in the open field and another go over his head in the end zone in his first game at the Metrodome as a visiting player. Moss didn't appear to have much spring in his 35-year-old legs, and he finished with just three receptions for 27 yards even though the Niners targeted him six times - one more than in the first two games combined.
Thumbs down: It's more an indictment of clueless replacement officials, but Jim Harbaugh was twice allowed to use timeouts he didn't have to challenge plays in a rather confusing 3:33 of the game. That's not exactly an example of cool heads prevailing in crunch time for the 49ers' coach.
Thumbs down: We really wouldn't mind seeing the 49ers actually take the ball first when they win The Opening coin toss, particularly on the road. The Niners deferred once again, and that allowed Minnesota to strike first and establish momentum the Vikings would carry throughout the first half after they took the opening kickoff and sailed 82 yards down the field in 16 plays to draw first blood on Christian Ponder's 1-yard TD pass to Kyle Rudolph.
Thumbs down: The 49ers had no answer for Rudolph in the red zone, also allowing him to get open for a 2-yard scoring pass from Ponder, with both of those TD passes coming when Ponder was under heavy pressure but was able to get the ball to Rudolph deep in the end zone over a beaten San Francisco defender.
Thumbs down: The last thing the 49ers needed to see in a fourth quarter to forget was starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga limping off the field with a leg injury, then star linebacker Patrick Willis limping noticeably at the end of the game. Both players were scheduled for X-rays after the game to determine the extent of any damage.
Thumbs down: For the second time this season, San Francisco's coverage teams got flagged for an illegal block in the back. How can a unit that is going after the football get flagged for blocking?
Thumbs down: And the first player to score a rushing TD against a defense that didn't allow a rushing TD in the first 14 games last season to set an NFL record? Why, it was a quarterback, as Ponder sliced through the middle of the San Francisco defense for a 23-yard scoring run after Ponder had converted on a third-and-11 pass on the previous play. That's a run the Niners typically wouldn't give up to anyone, more less a QB.
Thumbs down: Despite their ineffective play, the 49ers could have gotten right back in the game had safety Donte Whitner not dropped a sure interceptions right in his hands with open field ahead of him midway through the fourth quarter.
Thumbs up: With Minnesota basically needing just to run out the clock, San Francisco's scrappy defense kept clawing at the football and forced two fumbles by Toby Gerhart that were recovered by the Niners in San Francisco territory in the final four minutes.
Thumbs down: But that defense had one of its least memorable performances in quite some time, allowing the Vikings to dictate the tempo of the game and finish with 344 yards of total offense. Minnesota had a 33:28-26:32 edge in time of possession and converted on seven third-down plays.
Thumbs up: But NaVorro Bowman's performance was memorable. The All-Pro linebacker was constantly in the middle of the action while finishing with a career-high 18 tackles.
Thumbs down: The 49ers averaged just 5.0 yards per passing play, and their longest offensive play of the day went for only 22 yards. What happened to the explosive element the Niners had displayed in their first two games?
Thumbs up: Despite a dismal coming-back-down-to-earth Sunday, the 49ers are keeping it all in perspective. There's a long season still ahead, and there will be bad days for everybody along the way. "We weren't ourselves today," Whitner said. "But this is just one week. We'll be back."
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