SANTA CLARA – One of the NFL’s most picturesque and raucous stadiums awaits the 49ers and their loyal caravan of fans Monday night in Minnesota.
The 49ers (5-1) have lost six straight visits, and they have not won a road game over the Vikings since 1992 with Steve Young (and Amp Lee’s two touchdowns). Then again, a 2022 preseason win may have helped snap any losing aura, and that is when Brock Purdy emerged from a long-shot rookie to a potential future starter.
Purdy and the 49ers fell from the unbeaten ranks last Sunday, with a 19-17 loss to the Browns after kicker Jake Moody’s wide-right miss in Cleveland.
What will they encounter when they visit the Vikings (2-4) at U.S. Bank Stadium — aside from “Skol!” chants ringing out from the fans and Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” blaring inside that doom?
Let’s break it down in this Week 7 preview:
TOP 5 STORYLINES
1. OFFENSIVE CATALYSTS
Christian McCaffrey (oblique, ribs) and Deebo Samuel (shoulder) are hurt, and the 49ers struggled without them against the Browns. Will that duo be able to play, along with left tackle Trent Williams (ankle)? If not, other offensive leaders must step forth and resume the pace that saw the 49ers score at least 30 points in each of their five preceding wins.
2. COUSINS REUNION
Kirk Cousins’ brotherly bond with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan goes back a decade, and while it’s rehashed every time their teams square off, something might be different about this reunion. Could this be Cousins’ final start for the Vikings, if he agrees to a trade to a contender?
3. PURDY’S REBOUND GAME
Purdy is coming off the worst (full) outing of his career, even though he was last seen leading a potential game-winning drive in the final minute at Cleveland.
Minnesota helped serve as his launching pad during the 2022 preseason, from joint practices with the Vikings to their exhibition win. “It wasn’t always good, and it wasn’t always perfect, but the guy reacted and made plays and showed the game wasn’t too big for him,” Shanahan said last September about Purdy’s rookie preseason. “The guy’s a confident person and we’ve really liked what we’ve seen here. And I think the players feel the same way as I do.”
4. WHO TO STOP?
Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson, who gave the 49ers fits at those joint practices, is on Injured Reserve (hamstring). So who are the 49ers’ biggest threats? They certainly won’t be underestimating the Vikings, not after losing to the Browns’ collection of injury replacements on offense.
All of the Vikings’ games this season have been decided by one score, after they went 11-0 last season in such tight games. The 49ers were late field goal shy of winning Sunday, after blowing out four of their five prior opponents. If things are close Monday night, how is Moody’s mindset after the Cleveland gaffe?
The 49ers lead the all-time series 25-23-1, but they are 9-15 in Minnesota, including a 24-16 loss in the 2018 season opener that marked their first visit to U.S. Bank Stadium. On the road to their last Super Bowl win, the 49ers played a Monday night game in Minnesota, losing there 21-14 on Dec. 26, 1994. That was the first of six straight losing visits.
The 49ers won 34-26 on Nov. 28, 2021 at Levi’s Stadium, where the Vikings also lost 27-10 in the divisional playoff round following the 2019 season.
They were tied 14-14 at halftime of that last meeting, after two Kirk Cousins touchdown passes to Adam Thielen (now in Carolina). The 49ers pulled away behind a rushing attack that overall produced 208 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries. Robbie Gould missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt with 1:56 left, and the Vikings’ comeback wasn’t thwarted until a fourth-down incompletion from the 49ers’ 38-yard line.
MONDAY NIGHT HISTORY
The last time the 49ers played on a Monday night, they beat the Arizona Cardinals 38-10 in Mexico City, and that win last November gave the 49ers an NFL-record 52 all-time wins on “Monday Night Football.” Since then, the Pittsburgh Steelers have surged ahead, notching their 53rd Monday night win on Sept. 18.
The 49ers, in all-black alternate jerseys, opened the 2015 season with a 20-3, Monday night home win over the Vikings. That made the 49ers 3-1 all-time against Minnesota on Monday nights.
Did you know: The 49ers’ most receiving yards on a Monday night came from Jerry Rice (289) in a 1995 home win over the Vikings?
We’ve passed the one-third mark of the season, so let’s consider the playoff race, at least as an ode to 49ers-Vikings history. The 49ers share the NFC’s best record with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Detroit Lions. The Vikings opened 0-3, and they are 0-3 at home this season, but a win Monday night would announce their rebirth for wild-card contention.
By the way, the 49ers are 5-1 against the Vikings in the playoffs, and that lone loss was in the 1987 season’s divisional round at Candlestick Park.
Almost all 49ers loathe playing on synthetic surfaces, which the Vikings offer in their otherwise glorious 8-year-old home in downtown Minneapolis. Artificial turf does not double as a welcome mat for someone such as Williams, who played through an ankle injury Sunday in Cleveland. The 49ers aren’t as banged up as they were for last October’s visit to Atlanta, where they opted to keep most defensive starters off the Falcons’ synthetic surface in an eventual defeat.
The 49ers are practicing at home this week between faraway road games. That is unlike past seasons, when back-to-back road games prompted the 49ers to spend 10 days or so on the road, such as in West Virginia the past three years after layovers in Ohio and Florida in preceding seasons.
Gaining an extra day to rest and prepare is just one reason the 49ers decided months ago not to bunker in the Midwest. Another factor is having one fewer day to get ready for the following game, Oct. 29 at home against Cincinnati, prior to the 49ers’ Week 9 bye. (The Bengals will be coming off their bye, as the Browns just did before facing the 49ers.)
“We have an eight-day week, which is really unusual in this league, so we didn’t feel we needed to do it,” Shanahan said Monday. “We also know how miserable next week’s going to be when we have a six-day week coming back from landing at 5 in the morning on that six-day week. So kind of wanted the guys to be in their own homes this week because we know what it’s going to be like here over the next 14 days or so.”
This week’s schedule: Wednesday — players’ day off; Thursday — practice, 1:50 p.m.; Friday — practice, 1 p.m.; Saturday — practice, 12:30 p.m. (then fly to Minneapolis).
The 49ers are 7-point favorites and the over/under line is 44 points, according to VegasInsider.com. The Vikings are 0-3 at home this season, both straight up and against the spread.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Vikings 16