The 49ers took their first loss of the season on Sunday in Minnesota, a 24-13 defeat that was particularly frustrating for a few reasons.
1, the 49ers lost on the road in a game against a Vikings team that was clearly an inferior opponent, so much so that the 49ers were almost universally picked to win the game walking away. But, the NFL is a funny league sometimes. That's why they play the games.
2, The 49ers didn't lose the game by doing anything particularly wrong. Yes, there were a pair of 2nd half turnovers that really hurt them, and they turned the ball over 3 times overall, while only getting two takeaways, but most of these turnovers were of little consequence, coming after the game was already decided. They simply were beaten by a Vikings team that put together a perfect game plan and then executed it. They kept the 49ers off balance by moving their quarterback, Christian Ponder, around constantly, keeping plays alive until he could either run the ball or find an open receiver. They used Adrian Peterson sparingly early, and then pounded him late, after the 49ers were starting to wear down on defense. They controlled the ball from the beginning of the game, kicking things off with a touchdown drive that ran 16 plays and ate up more than half the first quarter.
3, The 49ers could not get any sustained momentum, something that they were able to do early in both of their prior victories. Down 14-3 late in the 2nd quarter, the 49ers put together a long drive down the field, moving the ball well into Minnesota territory. But after the drive stalled, the 49ers Field Goal attempt was blocked. Minnesota responded by taking the ball back and kicking a Field Goal of their own as the half expired. Now down 17-3, the 49ers started the 2nd half in great shape after Kyle Williams returned the opening kickoff inside the Minnesota 20 yard line. But the 49ers could not move the ball at all and had to settle for another Field Goal, trimming the deficit to 17-6 instead of 17-10. When they did finally score a Touchdown late in the 3rd quarter, the Vikings responded with another long drive that ate up yards and clock, and culminated in another Touchdown that would ultimately put the game out of reach at 24-13.
Games like this are going to happen to every team during the course of an NFL season. It's just the nature of the game. No team, except with rare exception, is good enough to win every game, and no team is bad enough to lose every game. That's the nature of the league, and as such, the 49ers were bound to lose a game somewhere that they probably shouldn't have lost on paper. It's early enough in the season that you can overcome these things. But, the flipside of this is that because Minnesota played the 49ers so well, it can cause some concern that other teams with similar ability can cause the same kind of problems for San Francisco. This doesn't, however, mean that the season is in jeopardy or expectations for the 49ers should be tempered. What it does mean is that maybe everyone dials back their enthusiasm a little bit. The 49ers will have another tough, 1pm Eastern Time road game on Sunday right here against the Jets. To make up for the time difference, the 49ers will be spending the week in Ohio, rather than going back to California. This worked out well for them last season. It remains to be seen. The 49ers look for all the world to be a better team than the Jets, but if last Sunday was any indication, stranger things have happened.