In the preseason, especially the opener, fans essentially look at what the first-team players accomplish while coaches also look at the guys on the second-, third- and fourth-line of the depth chart. However, in the preseason-opening "Turning Point of the Game," it was the first-teamers that made the difference. As the Vikings put together drives that ended in field goals, the Niners put together two touchdown drives to start the season.
Things looked up early for the Vikings, as in the first minute of the game. Christian Ponder found Stephen Burton open over the deep middle in what turned out to be a 52-yard gain to the San Francisco 24-yard line. The offense gained only two more yards, but still put points on the board via a Blair Walsh field goal to take a 3-0 lead less than two-and-a-half minutes into the game.
With the Candlestick Park crowd a little stunned, the Niners came back with an impressive drive in which they took the Vikings defense out in chunks. Veteran Rock Cartwright got the damage started with a 19-yard run and three plays later the 49ers went for a first down on fourth-and-1 – something they probably wouldn't have done in a regular-season game. Brandon Jacobs delivered with a 3-yard run.
San Francisco continued to pound the Vikings defense, but, when running back Kendall Hunter's 14-yard burst to the left side was followed up with a 23-yard run by Jacobs, the 49ers were in the red zone and would seal the deal with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Brett Swain to take a 7-3 lead – capping a 12-play, 84-yard drive that ate up 7:21 off the first-quarter game clock.
The first-team Vikings offense came back on the field and was efficient against one of the league's best defense. After getting into scoring position with a huge play on their first drive, the Vikings drove on the Niners the old-fashioned way on the second and final drive with the starters. Ponder converted a first down with an 8-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph and, one play later, the two connected for a 14-yard completion to get the Vikings into 49ers territory.
On the final play of the first quarter, Toby Gerhart took a sweep 16 yards to the San Francisco 12-yard line. But, as the game moved to the second quarter, the Vikings offense fizzled for the second time, having to settle for a field goal. The team capped off a 13-play drive that took 6:07 off the clock, but when all was said and done the Vikings still trailed 7-6.
After a grind-it-out first drive, the second San Francisco drive took just 28 seconds. After a two-yard run by Kendall Hunter, replacement QB Colin Kaepernick took off on a rollout and was effectively untouched – racing for a 78-yard touchdown to give San Francisco a 14-6 lead.
From there, only three points would be scored the rest of the game, but it was the ability of San Francisco to score touchdowns on its first two drives while the Vikings scored a pair of field goals that gave the 49ers a comfortable lead as both teams turned the game over to the reserves. In both a tortuously slow fashion followed by a back-breaking big play, the 49ers offense created the turning point of the preseason opener.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Turning point: Converting the difference
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