MINNEAPOLIS – Here is how the 49ers (5-2) graded in Monday night’s 22-17 loss at the Minnesota Vikings (3-4):
PASS OFFENSE: F
This was Brock Purdy’s first game with two interceptions, and both came in the final 5 ½ minutes to torpedo a legitimate comeback bid. Kyle Shanahan complimented Purdy’s overall game (21-of-30, 272 yards) and he indeed was humming along fine. But that closing act was a crusher. Still, Purdy blamed himself for poor anticipation and a bad ball on the first interception to Jauan Jennings (who seemed a tad slow out of his break, but Purdy and Shanahan praised Jennings’ route). On the second interception by Camryn Bynum, Purdy failed to connect with Ray-Ray McCloud. Jennings and McCloud? Why them in the clutch? Because the Vikings’ halftime adjustment wisely took away Aiyuk with double coverage and forced Purdy to focus on the other half of the field. Purdy got sacked only once, a remarkable feat considering blindside protector Trent Williams did not play, so that also was a positive reflection on replacement left tackle Jaylon Moore. Christian McCaffrey’s 35-yard third-quarter touchdown reception was bolstered in large part by blocks from Jennings and Aiyuk. George Kittle’s “National Tight Ends Day” output: five catches for 78 yards.
RUN OFFENSE: D
First of all, McCaffrey deserves kudos for playing through an oblique injury and scoring both touchdowns, the first of which was on a 3-yard run a minute before halftime. He repeatedly heaped blame on himself for the loss, tracing it to his lost fumble on the 49ers’ first possession (the first time they haven’t scored on an opening drive this season). All that aside, the 49ers’ penultimate possession reflected how tough it was to run, as they needed just 1 yard at midfield for a first down, and after McCaffrey and Purdy were stopped for no gain, it took a fourth-and-1 dive for Purdy to keep the drive alive, albeit for only for one more play because he threw his first interception on the next snap. McCaffrey, injury and all, had 15 of their 22 carries for 45 yards, which extended his NFL lead to 598 yards this season. The only other carry by a running back: Elijah Mitchell, for a 1-yard loss.
PASS DEFENSE: F
Steve Wilks’ blitz calls repeatedly backfired, and no more so than on Jordan Addison’s 60-yard, third-down touchdown catch just before halftime, against Charvarius Ward’s single coverage with no safety help because Tashaun Gipson Sr. bit forward on the play. Another play saw two defenders blitz on a third-and-10 screen that went for 30 yards to the 2-yard line. Why blitz? Because the four-man pass rush is not producing sacks. Kirk Cousins, who threw for 410 yards combined in losing his past two matchups with the 49ers, dropped 378 yards on them this time (35-of-45) without being sacked and without having Justin Jefferson (injured reserve). Ward made a nice play to intercept Cousins’ pass toward Addison on the first series, but Addison got his revenge on that momentum-seizing touchdown before halftime. Nick Bosa, who had one of the team’s six hits on Cousins, was very measured in his postgame address about the need for the defense — including himself — to step up. Third down would be a great point of emphasis, after the Vikings converted on 8-of-13.
RUN DEFENSE: C
The 49ers allowed a 19-yard run on the first snap, which certainly signaled more trouble after they allowed 160 yards on 34 carries to the Browns in the previous loss. The Vikings didn’t do too much further damage on the ground, because they thrived with Cousins’ air attack. Fred Warner had 13 tackles, Dre Greenlaw 10 and Talanoa Hufanga nine. Possibly the 49ers’ best tackle: Kevin Givens’ for a 1-yard loss to launch a goal-line stand in the second quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
Jake Moody’s career-long 55-yard field goal in the fourth quarter was a huge confidence boost and desperately needed. In the second quarter, he had missed a 40-yard field goal attempt wide right – his first kick since missing a 41-yarder wide right in the final seconds in Cleveland.
“The first one was frustrating,” Moody said. “I thought I hit it well, you look up and it’s not going through the posts, so it’s frustrating. I felt I did everything right leading up to it, and it didn’t happen to go in. I was glad I got another chance to put one through in a big moment like that.” Two other noteworthy moments for this unit: McCloud’s 34-yard kick return ahead of that 55-yard field-goal drive, and, third-quarter kickoff coverage by Jordan Mason and Greg Odum that pinned the Vikings at their 14.
The 49ers’ defense looks more disjointed than it has in years, and whether or not that reflects growing pains under first-year coordinator Steve Wilks, the blitz calls backfired and the blown assignments are maddening. Coach Kyle Shanahan also seemed dismayed by the blitz on the 60-yard touchdown, saying it would be discussed in the coming week. Big picture: The 49ers scored 17 points in each of their past two defeats, so make sure to spread the blame to the offensive side beyond Wilks’ defense. The 49ers (5-2) have been humbled, yet they remain in first place of the NFC West, with one tough matchup ahead (Sunday, against Cincinnati) before a Week 9 bye.