By Joseph Gunther
Christian Ponder played his best game in the NFL to lead the Minnesota Vikings to a 24-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at Mall of America Field.
Ponder completed 21-of-35 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns, but controlled the game and made good decisions. His development as the starting quarterback of the Vikings was based on his decision making. As long as he makes good decisions with the football, he is going to be a successful quarterback.
He did not force a lot of throws or miss open receivers. He really made only a couple ill-advised throws; one was caught by Kyle Rudolph in the end zone and the other was as a dropped interception. Rudolph came up big for his second-year quarterback with five catches for 36 yards and two touchdowns. He was targeted six times.
As usual, Ponder’s favorite target was Percy Harvin. The star wide receiver recorded nine catches for 89 yards and one rush for nine yards.
The Vikings (2-1) got the 49ers on their heels early with a 16-play, 80-yard opening drive that ate up seven minutes and 40 seconds. Ponder went 6-for-8 on the drive, including a one-yard touchdown for Rudolph’s first score.
The 49ers (2-1) were unable to respond and were forced to punt after Chad Greenway recorded the first of two sacks. Greenway finished the game with a team-high 13 tackles, two sacks, one tackle-for-a-loss and two quarterback hits.
After falling one-half of a sack shy of tying the NFL’s single season sack record, Jared Allen recorded his first sack of the season with one minute and 33 seconds remaining in the game. He also forced a fumble that was recovered by Brian Robison to seal the victory.
Adrian Peterson recorded 86 yards on 25 carries and two catches for 21 yards in his first game as a healthy running back.
Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson intercepted his first career pass with just over two minutes remaining in the game. It was the first interception Alex Smith had thrown since last November.
The Vikings moved the ball as well as they have all season, especially because of the opponent. After seeing young and developing defenses from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts, the Vikings faced a veteran unit that took care of the Green Bay Packers’ and Detroit Lions’ offenses.
The Vikings beat the 49ers in the same fashion that it wins games. The Vikings were more physical and precise. They took care of the ball, for the most part – two late fumbles by Toby Gerhart kept the 49ers in the game. The first fumble was neither a fumble nor should it have been challengeable for two reasons: the 49ers had just used its last timeout and the whistle blew to stop play prior to the ball coming out.
The Vikings moved the ball at will. It held a 64-yard advantage in total yards, including a 57-yard difference in rushing. The team played a nearly flawless game.
The Vikings were expected to have no chance to stop Vernon Davis. The safeties and linebacker have been torched over the deep middle third of the field. That is a huge mismatch area for Davis and the Vikings’ defense.
The Vikings held Davis to five catches for 53 yards. He was targeted eight times.
The Vikings’ defense as a group recorded three sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception. It was the first interception of a Smith pass since Nov. 24, 2011.
It wasn’t only the pass defense that the Vikings used to defeat the 49ers.
Frank Gore, one of the NFL’s best running backs, was held to 63 yards on 12 carries.
The only issue the Vikings had all game was their kick and punt coverage units. The kick coverage squad allowed two returns of 50 yards or longer, including a 94-yarder. The punt coverage squad did not get burned for it, but Kyle Williams had a lot of room to make returns.
Blair Walsh continued his perfect season with a 52 yard field goal, which made him the first Viking kicker to make at least one 50-plus yard field goal in three consecutive games.
He made one mistake and 49ers defensive back Donte Whitner dropped the easy pick-six. Other than one errant throw, Ponder was nearly perfect. He completed 21-of-35 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns, but most important to his development was his decision making. He spread the ball around completing passes to six different receivers and attempting passes to nine different receivers. He tucked the ball and ran when he needed to, including the 23-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.