The kickoff may have been in primetime Monday, but the Vikings never hit their prime in a 20-3 season opening loss to the 49ers at Levi's Stadium.
Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Minnesota was "out-physicaled" out west in a game with the latest regular season start time (9:20 p.m. CT) in Vikings history.
"They executed better, and like I told the team afterward, for two years and 17 ball games I've been here, that did not look like the football team I know," Zimmer said. "We didn't execute offensively, we didn't get off blocks defensively, we got cut a bunch of times. We were out of our gaps, so it was disappointing, a disappointing effort. A lot of credit goes to San Francisco. They were much more physical than we were. That's more of the team I would like to be like."
San Francisco opened with a three tight end set and ran Carlos Hyde for a gain of 9 on its first snap. The 49ers ran on five of their first six plays, setting the tone and finishing the tune with 230 rushing yards on 39 carries.
Hyde rushed 26 times for 168 yards and two touchdowns. The first included quite a spin move to change course and sprint across the field to the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead with 47 seconds left in the first half. It capped an 11-play, 93-yard drive that lasted 4:58. Hyde added a 17-yard touchdown to punctuate a 10-play, 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter.
"They were pounding us pretty good, and then we allowed that cutback run at the end of the half, so that's kind of the story of the night," Zimmer said.
Defensive tackle Linval Joseph added, "I felt like they ran to the outside a lot, they cutback a lot and we missed a lot of tackles. You can't miss tackles. We just have to make plays when it's time to make plays."
The performance by Hyde and the 49ers spoiled the return to the Vikings of Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota debut of Mike Wallace, as well as Teddy Bridgewater's first season-opening start.
Peterson finished with 10 carries for 31 yards and three catches for 21 yards.
"He looked alright to me. He didn't have many holes," Zimmer said.
Zimmer said the Vikings had a few more plays scripted for Peterson, but changed at the line of scrimmage based on the looks that the 49ers showed before the snap.
Wallace led the Vikings with six catches for 63 yards, which was of little consolation to the seventh-year receiver.
"We lost. I don't care about that," Wallace said. "I want to win. I haven't been to the playoffs in three years. That's our goal.
"I just know we have to play better, as a team and stick together," Wallace added. "It was a bad game for us. Everybody was anticipating and ready to play, but it didn't go the way we planned. We have a short week and a division game (at home against Detroit) coming up so we can't dwell in the past. This game is done."
Mixed bag for Bridgewater
Bridgewater finished 23 of 32 passing (71.9 percent completion rate) for 231 yards, but he lamented opening with three incompletions on the Vikings first offensive series that started at the San Francisco 26-yard line after Marcus Sherels' 44-yard return of a blocked field goal by Andrew Sendejo.
Bridgewater was sacked five times for losses of 54 yards, but Zimmer said those takedowns weren't all attributable to the offensive line that had one starter from the 2014 season opener in place Monday.
"I think some of it was Teddy. A lot of it was Teddy tonight. Teddy did not play good," Zimmer said. "He was sped up, he looked unsure. I think he was concerned about all the things that they were doing defensively, so it did not look like him."
Bridgewater said, "I definitely agree," with Zimmer's assessment.
"I missed some easy throws tonight, throws that set us behind the sticks or plays that could have resulted in big plays," Bridgewater said. "I just have to continue to get better each week."
Barr back in action
Anthony Barr returned to the regular season lineup for the first time since Nov. 30. According to the press box tally, he led all defenders with 12 tackles, including 10 solo and an impressive stop for loss when he surged across the line through an opening to stop Hyde behind the line.
The Vikings opened with Gerald Hodges Jr. at middle linebacker for the first time in a regular season game. They also opted to start Sendejo alongside Harrison Smith at safety. Robert Blanton, who had taken many of the first-team reps this offseason, also played in the second half.
Three related stats that stood out:
1-for-9 on third downs — the Vikings struggled to convert third downs in the preseason (19 of 65, 29.2 percent) and had an even harder time Monday against the 49ers, which set the table for the next stat
33:02 — time of possession for San Francisco, which held the ball for more than 10 minutes of the first and fourth quarters and helped the 49ers maintain a physicality that helped them close the game
14 first downs by rushing—the 49ers obtained 25 first downs, compared to 17 by the Vikings; of those, 14 occurred on rush plays, compared to five by the Vikings, which is a function of the 49ers staying ahead of the chains
Long flight, short week
The Vikings are scheduled to return to Minnesota Tuesday morning and will host Detroit Sunday.
Bridgewater said the Vikings will get back to work quickly.
"It's a reality check. We know now, with tonight's performance that we're nowhere near as good as everyone said we were," Bridgewater said. "We have a short week. We have six days. We play Detroit, a divisional opponent, a team that knows us well, and a team that we know well. We just have to get back to work."