Not many teams looked better than the San Francisco 49ers through the first two weeks of the 2012 season, but the Vikings prepared all week to change that. On Sunday at Mall of America Field, the Vikings preparation paid off in a big way. After jumping out to an early 7-0 lead, the Vikings never looked back as they blitzed the heavily-favored 49ers and came away with a thorough 24-13 victory.
“Our preparation this week was on point,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after the game. “The way we prepared this week, you knew that we were going to play good football. I didn’t say that to our team before we played Indy (last week). We did not handle the success against Jacksonville the right way. And I mentioned that to our players during the week prior to Indy. We came back this week and our guys were locked in. They were focused throughout the week and it showed in the way we played.”
The Vikings outstanding preparation definitely showed right off the bat, as Christian Ponder and the offense methodically drove down the field on the game’s opening drive. When all was said and done, Ponder found TE Kyle Rudolph for a 1-yard TD on 4th and goal to cap a 16-play, 82-yard drive that took 7:40 off the clock. The drive featured balanced playcalling, with 8 rushes and 8 passes, and it included only three 3rd-down plays.
San Francisco QB Alex Smith and his offense couldn’t match the execution on their first possession, as they were forced to punt away after just one 1st down. It was clear at that point that San Francisco was in for a day-long battle against the Vikings. The Vikings and 49ers exchanged punts after that, and then San Francisco got on the board with a 29-yard FG by David Akers.
Ponder, in the midst of perhaps his best game as a pro, responded following the 49ers FG. He drove the Vikings offense once again through the fierce 49ers defense, this time going 80 yards in 11 plays and capping the drive with a 23-yard TD sprint right through the heart of the 49ers defense. That score gave the Vikings a 14-3 lead with just 5:39 to play in the 1st half.
The 49ers offense gained some rhythm on the following drive and looked as if they’d be able to help the team carry some momentum into the locker room at halftime. They drove from their own 24-yardline to the Vikings 25 in 11 plays to set up Akers for a FG with just a minute play in the half. But the Vikings got a fantastic push up the middle and DT Letroy Guion extended his arms to block the kick, which gave Ponder and Co. possession on their own 33-yardline. Eight plays later, Blair Walsh came on to salvage a late-half score by splitting the uprights on a 52-yard kick. Walsh’s FG – the 3rd consecutive game he’s converted a FG of 50+ yards (Vikings record) – gave the Vikings a 17-3 lead at halftime.
San Francisco came out fast in the 3rd quarter, as Kyle Williams returned the opening kickoff 94 yards to the Minnesota 14-yardline. But the Vikings defense rose to the occasion, forcing the 49ers to settle for a 29-yard FG. The Vikings went 3-and-out on their next drive, and the 49ers filled the building with anxiety by driving 86 yards in 9 plays to score on a 1-yard TD from Alex Smith to TE Vernon Davis, making the score 17-13 in favor of the Vikings.
As they did most of the day, though, Ponder and the Vikings fought through the 49ers defense to produce points. Ponder found Rudolph for another TD – this time from 2 yards out – to cap a 12-play, 86-yard drive that took 7 minutes off the clock. At that point, the lead was 24-13, and the Vikings defense took it from there.
The 49ers following 5 drives ended in a lost fumble that was forced by S Jamarca Sanford and recovered by LB Marvin Mitchell, two punts, an INT by CB Josh Robinson and then another lost fumble that was forced by DE Jared Allen and recovered by DE Brian Robison. After the sack-forced-fumble by Allen, the Vikings offense took the field in the victory formation.
The Vikings defense was paced all day by LB Chad Greenway, who finished with 13 tackles and 2.0 sacks. CB Antoine Winfield was credited with 8 tackles, and both Sanford and fellow S Harrison Smith had 6 stops each. Sanford came in to replace starter Mistral Raymond, who went down with a leg injury early in the game.
Ponder finished the day going 21 of 35 for 198 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs (94.7 passer rating). Percy Harvin was Ponder’s favorite target, as he hauled in 9 of the 11 passes thrown his way for 89 yards. Rudolph had the 2 TDs on 5 receptions for 36 yards. It may not have been sensational, but the Vikings running game was solid against one of the best run defenses the NFL has seen in recent memory. Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Harvin and Ponder combined for 146 rushing yards on 41 carries.
The win moves the Vikings to 2-1 on the season as they prepare for a road contest against the Detroit Lions this week.
Tags: Blair Walsh, Brian Robison, Christian Ponder, Jamarca Sanford, Jared Allen, Kyle Rudolph, Leslie Frazier, Letroy Guion, Marvin Mitchell, Percy Harvin
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