Vikings Drop Ball, Drop Game

The Vikings were supposed to be entering the "easy" part of their schedule, but instead of taking advantage of San Francisco's previously generous defense, they dropped the ball in the pocket, dropped the ball in space and dropped a conference game that could come back to haunt them.

The Vikings never went to a no-huddle offense, but their no-offense huddle was in full effect in a lackluster 9-3 loss in San Francisco.

Brad Johnson gave up the ball too many times, his receivers dropped too many passes, and the Vikings let one golden opportunity slip through their grasp just as quickly as the receivers allowed the ball to squirt through their arms.

All afternoon long, the Vikings defense kept them in the game, and after an opening-drive field goal the offense did nothing to help out. The scariest sight at Monster Park was the invisible offense.

Johnson fumbled the ball away two times in San Francisco territory and threw another interception on a drive nearing scoring position. The 49ers simply capitalized on their gifts, with the deciding margin – two field goals – scored following Johnson's fumbles.

But it wasn't all Johnson's fault. His receivers – especially Troy Williamson – dropped at least three passes that would have gone for first downs, and the biggest drop by Williamson came on the Vikings' final drive.

Trailing 9-3, the Vikings drove across midfield one last time and needed to convert third-and-7 from the 27-yard line. Instead, Williamson let another pass slip between his chest and arms, and Johnson's last-ditch, fourth-down effort into double coverage was knocked away as the 49ers earned their third win of the season and the Vikings started their "easy" portion of the schedule win a loss to drop them to .500 at 4-4.

More frustrating for the Vikings was the fact that the defense held running back Frank Gore to 41 yards rushing on 19 carries and quarterback Alex Smith to 105 yards passing, despite the offense routinely putting the defense back on the field in no better position.

Johnson completed 21 of 31 passes for 136 yards, and Chester Taylor had 96 yards rushing and 45 yards receiving – the best in the game in both categories – but that only translated into three points on the Vikings' first drive and goose eggs throughout the rest of the game despite facing easily the NFL's most generous points-allowing defense.

The Minnesota defense started early, standing up Gore's rushing attempts on the game's opening drive and setting up the Vikings offense on its own 28-yard line, where they renewed their game-opening streak of scoring. Johnson started with an 11-yard pass to Tony Richardson before the ground game kicked into full gear. The Vikings ran seven consecutive plays, with Taylor getting five of those for 27 yards. Chester and Travis Taylor then combined for a reception each to pick up the third first down of the drive. Chester converted one more first down on the ground before the offense ground down in the red zone, settling for a 21-yard field goal from Ryan Longwell.

As it would turn out, the scoring – and the lead – would be short-lived.

The 49ers responded with their own field goal drive. Smith went to Antonio Bryant for a 22-yard pickup for the initial first down of the drive. After making another first down, Smith found Arnaz Battle for an 18-yard gain to the Vikings 13-yard line, but Minnesota's defense finally clamped down and forced a 25-yard Joe Nedney field goal to tie the game 3-3 with 13:22 to play in the second quarter.

When Steve Hutchinson left the game with a limp on the team's second drive, Marques Douglas shot the gap over left guard and knocked the ball loose from Johnson. Shawntae Spencer, coming on the blitz, recovered and set up the 49ers offense on the 21-yard line. While San Fran could only take advantage with a field goal for a 6-3 lead, the momentum was gaining on their side and only got stronger when they recovered their onside kick.

The defense stopped that effort, but the offense struggled the rest of the game. Penalties and drops were an issue on their third drive of the game, as Bethel Johnson dropped a bomb that would have been called back on a tripping call on Bryant McKinnie. The Vikings were able to recover from that hole thanks to a Walt Harris pass interference penalty while covering Travis Taylor, but once the offense moved across midfield it was forced to punt.

When they got it back with another quick defensive stand, it was Troy Williamson dropping a third-down pass to force one last punt before going to the half-time locker room with a 6-3 deficit.

The only first downs the Vikings could muster on their first drive of the second half came from two roughing-the-passer penalties, and Brad Johnson committed his second turnover of the game with an interception off Sammy Davis' hand and into Walt Harris' grasp.

Antoine Winfield answered with a diving interception, but for the seventh consecutive drive the offense came away without any points.

When a Kevin Williams sack ended the 49ers' next drive, the Vikings offense got across midfield for the first time in the second half. For a moment, it looked like a Chester Taylor turned a short pass into a 65-yard touchdown, but Travis Taylor was called for a block in the back. With Chester Taylor recovering on the sideline, Artose Pinner gained 27 yards on the ground in three carries, but two plays later Bryant Young stripped Brad Johnson of the ball and Manny Lawson recovered.

The defense had the 49ers stopped again, but a late hit by Darrion Scott on running back Michael Robinson extended the drive across midfield. It was the last first down San Francisco got, but it was enough to get Joe Nedney in field goal range, as the kicker booted a 51-yarder for a 9-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Minnesota went three-and-out, but so did the 49ers, giving the Vikings one last shot at a touchdown drive for the win.

Johnson started with a 7-yard pass to Jermaine Wiggins, and then Chester Taylor went to work. He carried three straight times for 24 yards, enough to move the offense across midfield and to the 30-yard line. After an incompletion and a 3-yard Taylor run, the Vikings needed 7 yards and went for a few more. That's when Williamson dropped his second easy would-be catch of the ballgame. On fourth down, Johnson locked in on Bethel Johnson, who received double coverage near the goal line, knocking away the pass and the Vikings' last opportunity to seize a win.

So much for that easy schedule bringing the Vikings to the playoffs. They'll actually have to earn wins, score points and hold onto the ball to make it to the playoffs.

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