Monday’s regular season opener was expected to be a triumphant return to action from Adrian Peterson, as he prepared to take the field for the first time in 53 weeks. A running back dominated the game, but it wasn’t A.P., it was second-year man Carlos Hyde of the 49ers who ran over, around and through the Minnesota Vikings defense in a humbling 20-3 loss in which the San Francisco bowling ball created his own Turning Point of the Game.
When a player has 168 rushing yards on 26 carries, you know the opposing defense was dominated. But, what made Hyde’s night so dominating was that it never stopped and was equally distributed, as he pounded the Vikings at an incredibly consistent fashion.
Hyde didn’t have many big plays, but he was so consistently putting the 49ers in ideal down-and-distance situations that it allowed San Francisco to dictate the pace almost throughout the entire game.
Worse yet was that the Vikings never found an answer for him. In the first half, he ran 12 times for 83 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, he ran 14 times for 85 yards and a TD. It was relentless and undeniably efficient.
A lot of times, a runner who posts the kind of gaudy numbers Hyde put up against Minnesota would be augmented by a 60-yard burst or a couple of 30-yard runs that help pad the numbers. Hyde didn’t have that. His longest run of the game was 18 yards. It was what he did on the totality of his carries that gashed the Vikings.
The tale of the tape was pretty rancid from the Vikings perspective. Of his 12 first-half carries, the plays gained 9, 8, 8, 3, 5, 0, 12, 3, 8, 10, 7 and 10 yards. His 14 rushes in the second half netted 4, 1, 1, 5, 4, 7, minus-4, 18, 17, 14, 1, 3, 9 and 5 yards.
The simple math was that of Hyde’s 26 carries, he gained 5 or more yards on 16 of them and 8 or more yards on 11 carries. With all the improvements the Vikings made defensively last year, their Achilles heel was their run defense. The Vikings ranked 25th against the run last year and will be at the bottom of that category when the statistics from Week 1 come out Tuesday.
Following the game, head coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings never underestimated Hyde even though he was making his debut as a starter Monday night. He liked what he saw on film and dreaded what he saw in person.
“I thought he was a good back,” Zimmer said. “I thought he was a good, big, physical back. He had a couple good cutback runs. I thought their offensive line did a great job as far as getting us out of gaps, cutting us on backside of things when we overran some things as well.”
The critical 93-yard drive the 49ers put together in the final six minutes of the first half had Hyde’s fingerprints all over it. Starting from their own 7-yard line, following a short pass to Anquan Boldin, Hyde got the ball three straight plays – gaining 3 yards to move the chains, followed by carries of 8 and 10 yards to get the Niners out of field position trouble at their own 36-yard line.
He went out for a few plays as Colin Kaepernick completed three straight passes to get San Francisco in the Vikings red zone, but then the 49ers turned back to Hyde. Following a 7-yard run from the 17-yard line, Hyde scored on a play that will likely end up on his career highlight reel. Starting to his right with Everson Griffen closing in on him, Hyde executed a spin move to get him going left, had Griffen grabbing two handfuls of air and he rumbled untouched for a 10-yard touchdown that proved to be the only points of the first half.
"We've got to give it up to the 49ers," Griffen said. "They came out and played a fast physical game. We were tired out there. We have to go back to the drawing board and the classroom and make the corrections that we need to get the team back on the upside."
After the Vikings finally got points on the board with 14:43 to play in the game, Hyde once again took over with a tortuous series of runs that gutted the Vikings defense. Starting from his own 20, Hyde moved the sticks on his own with carries of 4 and 7 yards. After Kaepernick converted a third-and-14 play on a 20-yard pass to Vernon Davis that kept the drive alive, Hyde took the next carry for an 18-yard sweep that put San Francisco in scoring position at the Vikings 35-yard line. After a pair of Kaepernick completions got the ball in the red zone, Hyde took a sweep to his right the remaining 17 yards for a touchdown.
Monday night was being hyped about the return of Peterson, not about the debut of Hyde as the starting running back in San Francisco in the post-Frank Gore era. Instead, it was Hyde who stole the show and methodically created his own Turning Point of the Game from the game’s first play until the last before the Vikings waved the white flag of surrender and allowed the 49ers to kneel on the ball and mercifully end the game.