The Vikings defense returned to its dominating ways, but with an offense that was in a San Francisco fog all afternoon, the defense's effort will be just a passing memory. Get that analysis and nearly 40 game notes that help put the gloom in perspective.
Talk to coaches or players and they rarely throw players from one of the other units under the bus – whether it be offense, defense or special teams. But, in light of the Vikings' 9-3 loss to San Francisco, the blame has to be placed squarely on the shoulders of Brad Johnson
and the offense.
The Vikings defense couldn't have been asked to do much more than it did. San Francisco ran 50 offensive plays and gained just 133 yards – an average of just 2.7 yards per play. In the rushing game, the Vikings were oppressive, allowing just 42 yards on 26 attempts – an average of just 1.6 yards per carry. To complicate matters, the 49ers averaged just 3.8 yards per passing play – a number that is more likely seen at the end of a 31-3 win rather than in a losing effort.
Of the 12 drives San Francisco's offense had prior to the final kneeldowns at the end of the game, on 10 of those drives they were off the field on four plays or less. They were as dominated as a team could be, yet the game goes down in the loss column as though they had been beaten into submission.
Everyone is free to admit that football is a team game and everyone shares in the loss. But in this instance, the Vikings defense would be within its rights to point fingers at the offense. The defense put in one its best overall performances in recent memory Sunday, but thanks to an offense that couldn't get points on the board, that effort likely will be largely forgotten by history.
The Vikings dominated most of the team statistics. They had a mere 238 total yards (135 rushing and 103 passing), but that was more than 100 yards better than the 49ers were able to manage. The Vikings had 135 yards on the ground on 33 carries (a 4.1-yard average), but had just a 3.1-yard average on 31 pass plays. The Vikings moved the ball more efficiently, picking up 17 first downs, as opposed to just eight for San Francisco, but, as you surely know by now, that doesn't matter in the final analysis.
The Vikings struggled again on third down, converting just five of 14, but even that stat is misleading. On the first drive of the game, the Vikings converted their first three third-down opportunities. After that, they were an ugly 2-for-11. What makes that stat even worse is that, coming into the game, San Francisco was the worst in the league defensively on third down, allowing opponents to convert 51 percent of their opportunities.
The Niners didn't take advantage of their third-down chances, either. They converted only 3 of 13 opportunities, and from the second quarter on were 0-for-9 on third downs.
The Vikings finished with just six penalties in the game – one of their lowest totals of the season – but it seemed like each of them came at critical times.
The Vikings held the ball for 34:45 of the game, allowing San Francisco to have the ball for just 25:15.
San Francisco came into the game with the second-worst giveaway-takeaway ratio in the league, but held a 3-1 edge on the Vikings, intercepting Johnson once and recovering two Johnson fumbles on passing plays. Alex Smith had one interception for the 49ers' only turnover.
Childress is a big proponent of the theory that says that if a team runs the ball 30 teams and completes 20 passes in the same game, they win almost 90 percent of the time. Sunday's game is proof why that number isn't 100 percent, because the Vikings succeeded in that regard.
Chester Taylor came up 4 yards short on his quest for 100 yards, rushing 26 times for 96 yards. Taylor was also the team's leading receiver, catching eight passes for 45 yards. Three other Vikings – Tony Richardson, Travis Taylor and Jermaine Wiggins – finished the game with three receptions each.
On the San Francisco side, the primary running back was also the top receiver. Frank Gore had just 41 yards on 19 carries to lead all rushers, but added 36 yards on five receptions.
Vikings wide receivers had just five receptions in the game, while the 49ers had just four catches from their wideouts in the game.
The 49ers held a clear edge in punting – which was critical in a tight game. Chris Kluwe averaged just 39.6 yards on five punts, while Andy Lee averaged 48.5 yards on six punts for San Francisco.
The return game was never a factor. Of the 11 combined punts, only three of them were returned and not fair caught or pinned down by defenders. Mewelde Moore had two returns for 18 yards, while the 49ers' Brandon Williams returned just one kick – and that for just 2 yards.
Brandon Moore should be up for Defensive Player of the Week in the coming days. He had 14 tackles (seven solo tackles) and one sack that caused a Vikings turnover. Cornerback Shawntae Spencer added eight tackles and recovered a fumble.
For the Vikings, Dontarrious Thomas led the team with eight tackles (four solo) and E.J. Henderson had eight as well, with just two of them being solo tackles.
The Vikings' starting front four accounted for just 12 tackles in the game – eight solos and four assists.
Chester Taylor had 13 carries in each half, gaining 61 yards in the first half on 13 rushes and 35 yards on the same number of carries in the second half. As low as that number is, he had 23 yards on his final three carries, which came in the final three minutes of the game. Prior to that, he had managed just 12 yards on 10 carries in the second half.
Darrion Scott suffered what looked to be a severe ankle or knee injury in the fourth quarter – a play after he was called for a late hit penalty that kept a 49ers drive alive and led to the final field goal.
The Vikings offense hasn't scored an offensive touchdown since the third quarter of the Seattle game – a stretch of more than nine quarters.
Brad Johnson was giving his all late in the game in hopes of a comeback. On a reverse to Bethel Johnson, the quarterback was lead-blocking – not something you would expect from a 38-year-old.
Artose Pinner gave the Vikings a brief shot of life as the game turned from the third quarter to the fourth. With Taylor being attended to on the sidelines, Pinner got three straight carries and gained 29 yards.
The negated touchdown on the 65-yard screen pass that was brought back because of a block in the back on Travis Taylor, while not a flagrant foul, appeared to be justified for a flag, especially since it happened right in front of an official – who didn't hesitate to throw the flag.
Troy Williamson had just one catch for four yards, coming midway through the third quarter. He had twice as many critical drops. One on a wide open pass on a third-and-7 play with 1:20 left in the game that would have given the Vikings a first down inside the 49ers 20-yard line. The other came in the final minute of the first half on a pass right in his chest that would have given the Vikings another first down near the San Francisco 20-yard line and would have likely allowed the team to, at a minimum, tie the game 6-6 at halftime.
Of the 49ers' first eight drives of the game, seven of them resulted in getting off the field in four plays or less, and three of them were of the three-and-out variety.
Dontarrious Thomas registered his first career solo sack in the NFL in the third quarter.
The 49ers blitzed Johnson on more than 50 percent of his pass attempts in the second half, including one stretch in which they blitzed on five of six pass plays.
Ben Leber led the Vikings with five tackles at halftime. He didn't have a single tackle in the second half.
After completing his first 10 passes of the game, Johnson completed just 11 of his last 21 passes the rest of the game.
49ers top receiver Antonio Bryant didn't catch a pass in the second half.
The Vikings avoided another near-disaster in the first half. Late in the half near midfield, Johnson threw a pass intended for Wiggins that hit linebacker T.J. Slaughter in the back. Wiggins, who went down trying to adjust to the poorly thrown pass, made the catch for a 3-yard gain on a play that just as easily could have been an interception.
Both special teams did a nice job of execution late in the first half. With a little more than two minutes remaining as the Vikings lined up to punt inside 49ers territory, the Niners smelled a rat, thinking the Vikings might try a fake punt and called a timeout. The Vikings, if they were planning on a fake, pulled out of it and punted. The Vikings' Ronyell Whitaker controlled the ball at the 1-yard line, and, while falling into the end zone, had the presence of mind to flip the ball to Cedric Griffin, who was standing a yard behind him and downed the ball there.
Williamson wasn't the only Viking with a critical drop. In the second quarter, Johnson threw a 50-yard bomb to Bethel Johnson, who worked around a defender to have a wide open look at the pass, which went through his hands and bounced off his pads incomplete.
The 49ers caught the Vikings unaware on an on-side kick attempt following their second field goal of the game in the second quarter. The Vikings defenders had already started in their back-pedal and, when Joe Nedney hit the ball off-center, wide receiver Bryan Gilmore was able to pull it in without being touched for an easy recovery.
What a difference one play can make. Steve Hutchinson left the game briefly in the second quarter and was replaced by Jason Whittle. On the next play, defensive end Marques Douglas blew by Whittle, hit Johnson from behind and forced a fumble that was recovered by Spencer and returned to the Vikings 21-yard line. That led directly to the 49ers' second field goal to take a 6-3 lead.
For the seventh time in eight games, the Vikings scored on their first drive of the game. They ate up nine minutes off the clock and ran 16 plays, but, as has become painfully repeated in six of the last seven games, they came away with just a field goal for their efforts. The only time the Vikings scored a TD in the seven first-drive scores was in the season opener vs. the Redskins.
Johnson has started 40 games for the Vikings and, after Sunday's loss, has a career record of 26-14.
Despite playing with ankle and knee injuries, respectively, both Kevin Williams and Matt Birk started for the Vikings.
Napoleon Harris missed the game and was replaced by Thomas – he ended up leading the team in tackles.
Sunday was Alumni Day at the stadium and, as part of the 25th anniversary of "The Catch," the play was recreated (sort of) with Joe Montana throwing to Dwight Clark.