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Vikings vs. 49ers: Five Game-Changing Plays

Looking back at the five most important plays from the Vikings’ season-opening win against the 49ers.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Kirk Cousins and the Vikings gave Jimmy Garoppolo his first taste of defeat as an NFL starter.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

In my game preview on Thursday, I predicted that the Vikings would struggle at times on offense but ride their incredibly talented defense to a 24-13 victory over the 49ers. I thought we might see a few hiccups from Kirk Cousins & company working out the kinks, but their day wouldn’t be nearly as rough as Jimmy Garoppolo and the up-and-coming-but-not-quite-there-yet 49ers.

I was way off. They won 24-16.

But hey, the rest of the stuff was basically right! (Please ignore me getting knocked out of the Survivor Pool in Week 1 for the second straight year later in the article.) It wasn’t always pretty, but the Vikings were able to take care of business and win their home opener on Sunday. Let’s take our weekly look back at the five biggest plays that helped decide the game.

Play 1: Vikings ball, 3rd & 3 at the San Francisco 22. Second quarter, 13:44 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass deep left to S.Diggs for 22 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Throws like this are why the Vikings paid Kirk Cousins all that money.

The Vikings offense made it inside the San Francisco 40 on each of their two drives but were only able to muster three points from it. On their third drive, Cousins came through with a picture-perfect toss to Stefon Diggs on third down for his first touchdown as a Viking. Cousins wasn’t this accurate as often as we may have hoped for throughout the game, but this one was a thing of beauty.

Play 2: 49ers ball, 2nd & goal at the Minnesota 1. Second quarter, 2:34 remaining. A.Morris up the middle to MIN 1 for no gain (L.Joseph). FUMBLES (L.Joseph), RECOVERED by MIN-H.Smith at MIN 2. H.Smith to MIN 2 for no gain (P.Garcon).

San Francisco was three feet away from tying the game late in the second quarter. On the first & goal play before this, Alfred Morris was very fortunate to recover his own fumble after Eric Kendricks knocked it out.

Fortunately for the Vikings, Morris didn’t learn from his mistake.

Andrew Sendejo made the initial contact, Linval Joseph poked the ball out, and Harrison Smith recovered at the 2 to keep the lead going into halftime. It was a huge play that featured some great defensive teamwork from Minnesota. If the 49ers scored there and it was tied at the half, this game may have unfolded much differently.

Play 3: 49ers ball, 3rd & 8 at the San Francisco 20. Third quarter, 10:48 remaining. (Shotgun) J.Garoppolo pass short right intended for K.Bourne INTERCEPTED by M.Hughes at SF 28. M.Hughes for 28 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Pretty decent way to make your NFL debut.

With Mackensie Alexander sidelined, rookie corner Mike Hughes played 52 of 66 defensive snaps and acquitted himself quite nicely. He allowed three receptions on six targets for 59 yards according to Pro Football Focus. While this pick six was more being in the right place at the right time than shutdown coverage, Hughes showed why the Vikings thought so highly of him in the draft. Alexander might have to be worried about getting his job back after he recovers from injury.

Play 4: Vikings ball, 2nd & goal at the San Francisco 11. Third quarter, 4:27 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass short right to K.Rudolph for 11 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

After the pick six, the Vikings had a chance to put the game away on their following drive with a 17-6 score. That’s just what they did. Adam Thielen had a big 34-yard reception on third down that put the Vikings in San Francisco territory. Cousins found David Morgan in a very tight window to keep the sticks moving and make it first & goal. Two plays later, we welcomed an old friend back into our lives: Rudolph the Red Zone Reindeer.

It was another gorgeous touch pass from Cousins for what would turn out to be the only reception of the day for Kyle Rudolph. Cousins and the Vikings offense as a whole had a rather up-and-down day overall. But man, were some of those “ups” way up there. The potential to be a very potent offense showed on plays like this.

Play 5: 49ers ball, 3rd & goal at the Minnesota 4. Fourth quarter, 8:18 remaining. (Shotgun) J.Garoppolo pass incomplete short middle to G.Kittle.

San Francisco was once again knocking on the door late in an 11-point game. Once again, they couldn’t get out of their own way.

George Kittle had a very good game overall, catching five passes for 90 yards and giving the Minnesota defense fits much of the day. He also had two very crucial passes go through his hands. This one wasn’t all his fault since Garoppolo sailed it a bit. It made the 49ers settle for a field goal. The other was definitely Kittle’s fault, and it negated what would have been a huge gain on the play before the Hughes pick six. If he holds onto either pass, the 49ers would have had a much better chance to pull off the upset.

As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments. The Vikings are still a bit of a work in progress early in the season, but a 1-0 work in progress certainly beats the alternative.


What was the most important play of the Vikings’ win over the 49ers?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Cousins to Diggs TD
    (115 votes)
  • 43%
    Morris’ fumble
    (553 votes)
  • 33%
    Hughes’ pick six
    (426 votes)
  • 3%
    Cousins to Rudolph TD
    (43 votes)
  • 7%
    Kittle’s drop
    (91 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (comment below)
    (31 votes)
1259 votes total Vote Now