Jimmy Garoppolo entered U.S. Bank Stadium as the NFL’s only undefeated starting quarterback Sunday afternoon.
But the host Minnesota Vikings had something to say about that.
One of the league’s most stingy defenses handed San Francisco a season-opening loss, 24-16 — Garoppolo’s first as a member of 49ers.
Dating back to the final five games of the 2017 season, Garoppolo had led the 49ers to a 5-0 finish capping an otherwise horrific season. Before his arrival, San Francisco was 1-10, securing just a single, lonely win against the also-struggling New York Giants in Week 10.
Putting the hype train on the tracks, Garoppolo looked to carry that same momentum into the 2018 season. Unfortunately for the 49ers, their first opponent came in the form of a Vikings team who ranked first in league in yards allowed per game, according to NFL.com.
With all 11 starting defenders returning for the 2018 season in Minnesota, a rare occurrence in terms of current-day NFL standards, the 49ers were fighting an uphill even before opening kickoff.
Said Garoppolo of Minnesota’s defense:
“They’re a talented group; we knew that coming into it. We knew it was going to be a tough challenge with the environment, going against a good team and they stood up to everything we though they would.”
Minnesota gave the 49ers offense troubles from the get go as they forced San Francisco to punt twice on their first two drives of the game.
Meanwhile, former Redskins signal caller Kirk Cousins found his rhythm by completing four of his first six passes, including a 22-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs on the Vikings second drive of the game.
Down 10-0 only two minutes into the second quarter, the 49ers finally began to find some traction offensively.
A 42-yard Robbie Gould field goal following a seven-play, 51-yard drive gave San Francisco some confidence now only down 10-3. This ignited their defense, who forced a three-and-out on the Minnesota’s ensuing possession.
The next drive, the 49ers were able to march 70-yards down field to put themselves in the red zone for the first time of the afternoon. Unfortunately for head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co., red zone offense would be their achilles heel for much of the game.
On second and goal on Minnesota’s one-yard line, 49ers running back Alfred Morris fumbled the ball, leading to a Vikings recovery.
This would be one of four red zone trips the 49ers would come up essentially empty handed. In three other appearances, the 49ers would be forced to kick three more field goals, securing only nine points within 20 yards from the end zone.
As if the red zone game wasn’t frustrating enough for Shanahan, the Vikings offense simply had their way with Garoppolo for most of the day. Holding the 26-year-old quarterback to a career-low 261-yard day, Garoppolo threw three interceptions to Minnesota defensive backs, including a pick-six to rookie cornerback Mike Hughes.
Garoppolo credited Shanahan for putting the team in good situations but says the blame falls the players, including himself, for not executing:
“I thought Kyle [Shanahan] got in a good rhythm. He was calling good plays and putting us in good situations and that makes everything easier. We just have to execute better. He puts us in good situations like that, we have to make the easy completion, make the easy catch: All that stuff.”
“When you’re one-of-four in the end zone and you have some of those missed plays down there, it’s VERY hard to beat a good team and I though we were definitely capable of doin that today.”
With the deck seemingly stacked against them, though, the 49ers kept themselves alive until the bitter end of the game. Down 24-16, Garoppolo and the rest of the San Francisco offense got the ball back with 1:54 remaining in the game.
On second and 10 from his own 11-yard line, however, Garoppolo threw his third interception to Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who finished a highly effective day that included eight tackles, one sack and a fumble recovery.
With no timeouts left, the 49ers were forced to watch the Vikings run out the clock, handing them their second consecutive season-opening loss and Garoppolo’s first as a 49ers starter.
Said Garoppolo after sustaining his first loss:
“For all the negatives that were in the game, we still had a shot at it so it’s a tough one.”
Fred Warner had an impressive professional debut against Minnesota. Leading the team with 12 tackles (11 solo) Warner stepped into the MIKE linebacker role nicely in place of the suspended Reuben Foster, who will also miss Week 2 via suspension. Warner also had one tackle for loss as the rookie LB was able to stop Vikings running back Dalvin Cook behind the line of scrimmage.
With his impressive performance, it’s not too far out of the realm of possibility that the 49ers will keep the BYU product in the starting lineup even after Foster comes back.
Considering the fact that fellow linebacker Brock Coyle also left Sunday’s game with a concussion, Warner may have earned himself a substantial amount of playing time thanks to his strong outing against Minnesota.
The 49ers offensive line is hurting after this loss thanks to a pair of foot injuries to both their starting and backup right guards.
Mike Person was the first to go down after being rolled up on a zone running play to the right side of the field before half time. Coming in for Person was former first-round pick Joshua Garnett, who was beaten out for the starting job by Person prior to Week 1.
Garnett, too, was forced to leave shortly after Person’s exit as the former Stanford Cardinal looked to injure his right leg in a non-contact scenario.
The 49ers listed Garnett as questionable with a foot injury but did not return to game-action.
Due to the lack of depth at that position, the 49ers were forced to slide rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey to right guard and put offensive lineman Gary Gilliam at right tackle.
It’s not clear how the 49ers will address the hole at guard as they prepare for a Week 2 matchup against the visiting Detroit Lions next Sunday.