MINNEAPOLIS — Vikings All-Pro safety Harrison Smith ended San Francisco’s final two possessions with a sack and an interception on Sunday to preserve a 24-16 victory on Sunday in the season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Smith sacked Jimmy Garoppolo on a blitz for a loss of 11 on the 49ers penultimate possession and picked off an offering down the middle of the field. Smith returned the pass 14 yards to the San Francisco 15.
Smith’s sack was the 10th of his career, giving him the most of any Vikings defensive back (Joey Browner had 9.5). He also recovered a fumble forced by fellow safety Andrew Sendejo when Minnesota was backed against its own goal line.
Oh, and he also moved past the 600-career tackles mark.
Smith’s efforts were joined by an interception returned 28 yards for a touchdown by rookie Mike Hughes and an interception by Xavier Rhodes, the 10th of his career. Hughes became the first Vikings rookie to return an interception for a touchdown in Week 1.
Garoppolo finished 15-of-33 passing for 261 yards with one touchdown, the three interceptions and a passer rating of 45.1.
Kirk Cousins’ debut with the Vikings included a pair of touchdowns — the 100th and 101st of his career on a beautiful pair of passes — three scrambles and a hard count that helped ice the game.
On a third-and-5 late, Cousins dove on a scramble and was hit in the right shoulder just shy of the sticks. The 49ers, however, committed a neutral zone infraction that allowed Minnesota to run an additional 1:05 off the clock.
Cousins finished 20-of-36 for 244 yards with no turnovers and a passer rating of 95.1.
Adam Thielen led the Vikings with six catches for 102 yards. Stefon Diggs caught three passes for 43 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown, and Kyle Rudolph added an 11-yard reception.
Dalvin Cook played in a regular-season game for the first time since Oct. 1. The second-year running back rushed 16 times for 40 yards and caught six passes for 55 yards.
The Vikings and 49ers swapped fumbles in the second quarter under different circumstances.
Neither turnover led to points for the other team, but both took away chances to change the complexion of the game.
Dalvin Cook rushed for a gain of 16 to the San Francisco 34-yard line. He nearly sprung free with nothing but green turf (and purple end zone) ahead. Unfortunately Cook was slowed enough that Fred Warner was able to catch him from behind and pop the ball free. Niners cornerback Richard Sherman recovered the ball at the 29.
San Francisco drove 70 yards to the Minnesota 1, but Alfred Morris was stuffed by Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks for no gain on first-and-goal. Sendejo forced a fumble by Morris on the following play, and Smith recovered the ball at the 2 with 2:18 remaining in the first half.
The Vikings offense moved the ball to the Niners 40 before a pair of completions lost a combined 5 yards. Cousins was sacked for a loss of 9 on the final play of the first half.
Q1, 3:56 remaining
Vikings 3, 49ers 0
Daniel Carlson kicks a 48-yard field goal [7 plays, 40 yards, 3:21]
Back-to-back: The drive included an 18-yard completion by Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs and a 14-yard reception by Adam Thielen. Cousins added a 6-yard run up the middle.
Q2, 13:39 remaining
Vikings 10, 49ers 0
Cousins completes 22-yard touchdown pass to Diggs (Carlson kick) [6 plays, 53 yards, 2:32]
A real beaut, Kirk: On third-and-3, Cousins opted to go for the gusto and target Diggs down the sideline against single coverage.
Q2, 11:42 remaining
Vikings 10, 49ers 3
Robbie Gould kicks a 42-yard field goal [7 plays, 51 yards, 1:57]
Rotation: The Vikings subbed their defensive line completely, and the 49ers quickly advanced with gains of 18 and 13 on passes from Jimmy Garoppolo to George Kittle. The drive also benefitted from a 15-yard pass interference penalty against Trae Waynes. Minnesota brought the first-team defensive line back in the game, and San Francisco’s drive stalled at the 24.
Q3, 10:41 remaining
Vikings 17, 49ers 3
Mike Hughes returns an interception 28 yards for a touchdown (Carlson kick)
Historic debut: Hughes became the first Vikings rookie to return an interception for a score in the first game of a season.
Q3, 9:15 remaining
Vikings 17, 49ers 6
Gould kicks a 33-yard field goal [5 plays, 60 yards, 1:26]
Almost all in one play: A drive that covered 60 yards was highlighted by a 56-yard completion from Garoppolo to Kyle Juszczyk.
Q3, 4:22 remaining
Vikings 24, 49ers 6
Kyle Rudolph catches an 11-yard pass from Cousins (Carlson kick) [9 plays, 75 yards, 4:53]
Quick fix: After a false start penalty on Diggs on second-and-goal from the 6, Cousins connected with Rudolph immediately in the back of the end zone.
Q3, 0:31 remaining
Vikings 24, 49ers 13
Dante Pettis catches a 22-yard pass from Garoppolo (Gould kick) [7 plays, 75 yards, 3:51]
Q4, 8:09 remaining
Vikings 24, 49ers 16
Gould kicks a 22-yard field goal [11 plays, 82 yards, 5:34]