Miracle finish deals 49ers heartbreaking loss

It was going to take a miracle to deny the 49ers an upset victory that would reverberate around the NFL on Sunday. And a miracle is just what the Minnesota Vikings got in the final seconds at the Metrodome as Brett Favre's desperation pass in the final seconds was somehow pulled down by a third-string receiver in the back of the end zone to give the home team a dramatic 27-24 victory.

That's a victory that was almost certainly going to belong to the Niners as Favre dropped back to pass from his own 32-yard line with 12 seconds to play and the Vikings facing third down and owning no timeouts.

But Favre, in his first home game as Minnesota's new starting quarterback, came up with some of the magic that has defined his Hall of Fame-bound career just when the Vikings needed it most.

Looking right and stepping up in the pocket, Favre unloaded a laser that found seldom-used wideout Greg Lewis in the back of the end zone. Leaping in the air behind 49ers safety Mark Roman, Lewis was able to snag the ball and get both feet inside the back line to complete Minnesota's stunning 80-yard drive to the winning score in the final 89 seconds.

It was the 42nd comeback from a fourth-quarter deficit directed by Favre, who was a 49er killer earlier in his career while with the Green Bay Packers.

"It's hard to even recall all of 'em," Favre said. "But this one was pretty special."

And it left twisting in the wind what would have been – and probably should have been – a special victory for the upstart 49ers.

After Frank Gore left the game following his first carry with a sprained ankle that knocked him out for the rest of the afternoon, the 49ers rallied from an early 10-0 deficit to take command of the game early in the second half.
Then, after the Vikings rallied to take a 20-17 lead into the fourth quarter, quarterback Shaun Hill guided the 49ers on a crisp 80-yard touchdown drive that ended with the football in the arms of tight end Vernon Davis in the end zone for the second time on the afternoon.

That 20-yard scoring pass gave the 49ers a 24-20 lead midway through the final period, and it looked like that advantage would hold up after San Francisco's opportunistic defense rose to the occasion to stuff the Vikings on Minnesota's next two offensive possessions.

"We stepped up when we had to make plays," said Davis, who had career-high totals of seven receptions for 96 yards, which included a 5-yard scoring pass from Hill that put the 49ers on the scoreboard in the second quarter. "We came out here to take care of business, and that's what we were doing. We were right there."

But then Favre and the Vikings took it away to improve to 3-0 while dropping San Francisco to 2-1 and ending the 49ers' four-game winning streak dating back to last season.

The 49ers were in position to ascend to the mantel of NFC frontrunner after they forced Minnesota to punt with 1:55 remaining after Favre threw a third-down incompletion that was almost intercepted by Niners cornerback Dre Bly.

But San Francisco sent rookie running back Glen Coffee into the line three times before punting the ball back to the Vikings, who began the decisive final drive from their own 20-yard line with 1:29 remaining and no timeouts.

Even with Favre completing 5 of 9 passes to get the Vikings to the San Francisco 32, the 49ers appeared to have Minnesota right where they wanted with time ticking off the clock. But with Favre, who competed 24 of 46 passes for 301 yards, there is always a chance.

"He's been in many, many, many, many situations like that," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "So it never hurts you to have a veteran like him going down the field."

Until the final sequence, Favre had been outplayed by Hill, who efficiently completed 15 of 25 passes for 195 yards and a quarterback rating of 94.6. The only area in which Hill did not excel was on third-down conversions, where the 49ers were a horrific 0-for-11.

But despite that stat, the 49ers were in position for a season-defining upset because of their physical play, resilience and resourcefulness, which included a blocked field goal on the final play of the first half that was returned 59 yards for a touchdown by Nate Clements.

That sudden turn of events came as the Vikings were setting up for a routine field-goal attempt that could have given Minnesota a 16-7 halftime lead that would have been characteristic of the way the Vikings controlled the first two quarters, during which they held a 201-74 advantage in total yards.

Instead, the 49ers strolled into the locker room with a 14-13 halftime lead, which they added to on a Joe Nedney field goal late in third quarter.

Percy Harvin returned the ensuing kickoff 101 yards to give the lead right back to Minnesota, but the 49ers answered with their long touchdown drive minutes later and carried that momentum into the stretch run.

Until, that is, Favre took it all away with only seconds to play.

"We didn't come out here to come close," 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. "We came out here to win. So you look at a game like today, and it was a tough loss.

"But a team that lost this game – particularly like that – is going to be better for it. We will be better moving forward. It stings and hurts like heck, but going forward, it will help us. We have to learn how to finish and we have to learn how to play big games. When you lose a game of this magnitude ... I'd rather we lose now, taste it, chew on it, swallow it and get better."

Added Davis, "This game is not going to get us down. We're a good team and we're making strides. We're going to move on and put this game behind us. We're going to keep on doing what we've been doing, and everything will work out for us."



Niners Digest Top Stories