The Vikings have one significant advantage in their meeting Sunday with the San Francisco 49ers – they will be playing them at home. As the Legend of Greg Lewis goes, strange things happen when the 49ers come to the Metrodome. But if the first two weeks this season is the start of a trend, the Vikings need to not only change what they have done early in games, but change what San Francisco has done as well.
In their first two games, San Francisco has taken on the top dogs of the NFC North. Coming to the Metrodome can't be any more daunting than heading into Lambeau Field for the season opener and, in that game, the Packers were dominated in a fashion rare to the brat-and-cheese crowd in Green Bay.
After a three-and-out on their first offensive drive, from the time the 49ers got the ball back with 9:11 to play in the first quarter until 8:16 remained in the third quarter, they had the ball five times. Four of those drives went nine plays or more and the one that didn't was because they had just 18 seconds to play in the half when they got the ball. On those five drives, San Francisco scored three field goals and two touchdowns to take a 23-7 lead and leave the Packers in the dust. The final score may have read 30-22, but this game was over midway through the third quarter.
Against the Lions, San Francisco used a different approach. As with Green Bay, they never trailed. They scored on their first drive of the game, driving 67 yards in just four plays to take a 7-0 lead and, after allowing the Lions to draw within 7-6 – after stopping Detroit's offense following a fumble on the San Francisco 25-yard line – had their defense pick off Matthew Stafford late in the first quarter. It created a near-identical situation, as the 49ers took over the ball at the Lions 25-yard line and took it from there for a touchdown and a 14-6 lead heading into halftime.
In the second half, the 49ers had the ball just four times. Their first three drives ended with two field goals and a touchdown and came on drives of 10, 10 and 13 plays. The last time they had the ball – despite allowing the Lions to score two field goals and a touchdown on their three drives – they didn't go 10 or more plays. Why? Because Alex Smith simply knelt on the ball three times to kill the clock and end the game.
For all intents, the 49ers won their first two games midway through the second quarter. From that point on, they maintained their lead – like Muhammad Ali dancing the last couple of rounds of a fight because he had long-since won the contest on points.
By the time Matthew Stafford got his hands on the ball to start the second half, his team was behind 17-6 and it was effectively in panic mode. To his credit, he scored points on every drive he had in the second half on drives of 10, nine and 10 plays. It wasn't enough. The 49ers had the lead and it was like a cat tapping a crippled mouse on his head to make sure it was still alive before he opts to kill it.
In contrast, we have the Vikings.
In a generous opinion, the first half has not been kind to the Vikings. In a realistic opinion, it has been uglier than Honey Boo Boo's mom. Whereas the 49ers have been a well-oiled machine, the Vikings have been the junker car from which a sketchy mechanic sticks his head out from the open and says, "Give it a try." Those scenarios typically don't end well.
Against Jacksonville, the Vikings offense was the little engine that couldn't. Their first four drives ended in punts – two dance line performances (one, two, three, kick) and drives of four and six plays. It was an offensive jugger-not. They had enough to win – improbable as it may have been given the circumstances – but that was against Jacksonville.
Against the Colts last week, the Vikings sustained a pair of long drives to start the game (12 and nine plays), but came away with just six points, having to settle for a pair of field goals – the second coming with 11:38 to play in the second quarter. That would become a key moment in the game.
From the 11:38 mark of the second quarter, to the 10:10 mark of the fourth quarter – a span of more than 31 minutes of a 60-minute game – the Vikings had the ball five times. They had four punts and one lost Christian Ponder fumble.
In the span of that Vikings ineptitude, the Colts scored 13 points and took over the game. The Vikings' late comeback was admirable, but, in the end, not effective enough.
As we head into Sunday's game with the 49ers, it would seem that the imperative for the Vikings will be to come out strong in the first half. San Francisco has started a trend of building a lead and, once a game is effectively dominated, they game-manage their way to victory.
Ask any hard-core Packers or Lions fans if the 49ers beat them by eight points? That was the final score, but that wasn't the game. The 49ers dominated key stretches of those games and the contest really wasn't that close.
If the Vikings are to make a statement Sunday – which would be a significant statement if they can beat the 49ers – it will have to come early. It would appear the 49ers have built a trend of holding leads, which doesn't bode well for a team that has struggled to get its offense rolling.
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.
49ers dominate key stretches of games
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