The reigning NFC West Champion 49ers have held at least a share of the division lead since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2011, but that streak came to a convincing end on Sunday.
San Francisco (2-1) went into Minneapolis unaware that the Vikings would be so prepared in all phases of the game and found itself on the losing end of a 24-13 score as a result.
Alex Smith misfired on throws, the offensive line struggled in pass protection and the defensive unit was perhaps the most unprepared of any in this game.
We must credit the Vikings, of course. Christian Ponder continued his strong season at quarterback, and WR Percy Harvin was his usual slippery self.
Rest assured, Harbaugh and his knowledgeable staff will take this unsettling defeat in stride and use the experience to better prepare their squad from here on out. Remember, the 49ers suffered their first defeat in 2011 as early as Week 2, only to rattle off eight straight victories before their next loss.
When you're a team expected to contend for a Lombardi Trophy, any double-digit loss to a team you were favored to beat by more than a touchdown is undoubtedly disheartening.
The 49ers shortcomings in this contest will be highlighted throughout the week, both by the coaching staff and national media. If you're looking for any game balls to be handed out in the 49ers locker room, you're left to wait until at least next Sunday.
That said, we can still deliver a little praise for the few strong individual performances we did see.
Kyle Williams, KR/PR
Not only was Williams undeserving of criticism in the 49ers' first loss since the NFC Championship Game, he was arguably their top performer.
The 24-year-old wide receiver caught two passes for 16 yards, but it was his marvelous efforts in the return game that earned him this game ball.
Williams ripped off a 94-yard kick return to start the second half, seemingly jump-starting the 49ers, who entered the third quarter trailing 17-3. The return brought San Fran to the Vikings 14-yard line, but Smith and the ineffective offense went three-and-out and were forced to settle for yet another David Akers field goal.
Williams gave his team another big boost in the fourth quarter, with a 50-yard kick return, but the normally sure-handed Frank Gore coughed up the pigskin on the very next play. Williams only returned two kicks on the day, but they went for a total of 144 yards. He also turned in a 16-yard runback on one of his two punt returns.
Williams was absolutely electric against the Vikings, and he's been rock solid in every game this year. If Ted Ginn Jr.'s ankle injury continues to linger, there shouldn't be a single shred of leftover doubt that No. 10 can carry the load in the return game.
Vernon Davis, TE
Davis wasn't perfect—especially late in the game—but he was able to find the end zone for the fourth time this season and has really proved to be the 49ers only consistent red-zone threat thus far.
Playoffs included, make it five straight games with a TD for the Pro Bowl TE.
Davis finished the game with 53 receiving yards on five catches, and was also effective when blocking—in both the pass and run game. The 49ers opted for a pass-heavy attack against the Vikings, but he helped LT Joe Staley stave off Jared Allen numerous times in pass protection and was solid in the run game, as San Fran's tight ends usually are.
NaVorro Bowman, ILB
The smothering 49ers defense played an extremely uncharacteristic game as a unit, but Bowman clearly continued to carry his breakout 2011 campaign into 2012.
The All-Pro linebacker was credited with 18 tackles (seven solo) on the day, playing a crucial role in holding RB Adrian Peterson to just 3.4 yards per carry.
Patrick Willis is still the best linebacker on this team—and arguably the entire NFL—but Bowman came through with a better performance this week, just as he did in the Week 1 victory over the Packers.
Several 49ers experienced forgettable performances on Sunday, but a bright spot can be found in even the worst of defeats. The Red and Gold will hold themselves accountable for the loss as a team and come back with 60 minutes of 49er football next week against the New York Jets.
The team will have a unique opportunity to turn this game into a learning experience, as they head to Youngstown, Ohio, to continue a 10-day road trip rather than returning home for a short week.
Harbaugh organized the same pit stop in Youngstown last year as well. The 49ers closed it out with a 24-23 comeback win over the Eagles and returned home to beat down the Buccaneers 48-3 the following week.
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