49ers vs. Vikings: San Francisco's Biggest Winners & Losers from NFL Week 3
The upset of the week came in the NFL's first slate of games on Sunday.
The San Francisco 49ers traveled to Minnesota to take on their third straight NFC North opponent in the Vikings. From the get-go, the winds in this game seemed to be blowing in Minnesota's favor. The 49ers performed well below par, in arguably their most uncharacteristic game in the Harbaugh era.
The Vikings and 49ers both rose and fell to 2-1 after it was all said and done, but it was certainly disappointing for San Francisco who was hoping to remain undefeated.
For San Francisco's biggest winners and losers from Week 3, continue through the following slides. Bear with me, sports fans, it's never easy dissecting a loss. However, I've tried to emphasize a positive spin on this otherwise demoralizing performance.
Winner: The NFC West
San Francisco's loss to Minnesota is great news for the three underdogs it shares a division with.
Arizona, St. Louis and Seattle are all currently in the 49ers' shadow in the NFC West, but Sunday's loss only helps to even the landscape. Entering Week 3, the Cardinals were one of a select few undefeated teams. They, along with the Seahawks, do qualify as legitimate competition for the Niners.
If Arizona is able to get a Week 3 win against Philadelphia, the Cardinals could take an early lead over San Francisco in the division.
Minnesota also provided the rest of the NFC West—and the NFL—with a schematic on how to beat the 49ers. There is now an entire game's worth of film available on an exposed 2012 49ers team. This loss brought San Francisco back down to earth and made a lot of other organizations in the league quite content.
Loser: Alex Smith
Alex Smith did not look great against Minnesota. The Vikings defensive unit was flying around, getting pressure on Smith and taking away his receiving options. It was blowing up plays with good execution and play-calling.
Smith only completed 24-of-35 for 204 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The team failed to push the ball downfield through the air, looking completely inept against Minnesota's secondary. Smith was forced to check it down or throw short of the sticks far too often. It did not help that the play-calling was so conservative, but Smith could have executed a little better.
While there was a handful of good throws he made, there were also a number of missed opportunities, including a couple over-throws to an open Randy Moss; one was a potential touchdown.
Winner: Frank Gore
For those who watched the game in its entirety, this slide headline may be a bit confusing at first.
Going forward, this should be a good thing for Frank Gore. The 49ers' premier workhorse received a limited load against Minnesota, only carrying 12 times for 63 yards. The staff did not do a great job getting him involved and productive early in the game.
The 49ers have a winning record when Gore breaks the century mark. It's about setting the tempo early, establishing the run and steadily opening up the pass. The 49ers did not have any sort of offensive flow, and one could assume that Gore's general absence did not help.
Gore only carried 12 times and Alex Smith threw 35 times, which is not a proper balance. Hopefully the 49ers will reflect on their mistakes and maintain that it won't happen again.
Loser: Randy Moss
After two straight wins, Moss learned the reality that the 49ers are not invincible. As a savvy veteran, this is something he already knew, but this loss probably stings Moss in particular.
The former Minnesota Viking is looking to put the finishing touches on his career, and it just so happened that path went through his old stomping grounds. It would have been a treat for him and his new team to come away with a win, but it just wasn't in the cards.
And beside being limited, Moss was also possibly frustrated over the missed connection between him and quarterback Alex Smith. The two missed on a potential touchdown early on when Smith lofted it a little too high.
Moss finished with only three catches for 27 yards.
As the game went on and the 49ers' chances appeared bleaker, there was no urgency by the team and Moss was not used any more. This was a tough one to swallow. Let's just hope it does not derail Moss' progress or mentality.
Randy Moss now sitting alone on the opposite side of the 50-yard line from the rest of the #49ers offense. Welcome home.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) September 23, 2012
Winner: The Team, the Team, the Team
Now, to turn this negative into a positive.
In Week 2 of 2011, San Francisco suffered a heart-breaking overtime loss at home to the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers (1-1) entered Week 3 with a chip on their shoulder and went on to rip off eight straight wins before falling to Baltimore.
San Francisco adopts the motto, "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." The 49ers should bounce back from this, starting immediately. The Niners might have been on a bit of a high as the league's unanimous favorite early in the season. But the 49ers have been brought back down to earth, and something like this will only make them work harder.
While this stings right now, it might be necessary for San Francisco going forward. This could ultimately make them a better, more focused group. Jim Harbaugh will know how to extract something positive from this.
Loser: The Defense
This was by far the most uncharacteristic performance by the San Francisco defense.
The defensive line did not always win its matchups, allowed the Vikings to use the gaps to their benefit and failed to get pressure on passing downs. The linebackers got out-muscled, over- and under-pursued, missed tackles and also failed to pressure Christian Ponder. The secondary did not cover well, it left holes in coverage, did not communicate well and did not get its hands on the football.
As a whole, the 49ers' defensive unit failed to set the tempo, looking like a completely different unit on the field Sunday. It did not swarm or attack the football and did not appear to intimidate the Vikings at all.
This defensive unit should regroup and come back stronger; everyone has a bad day now and again. The 49ers will review the film and make the proper adjustments. This loss will not be in vain—the 49ers will benefit from it.