By Janie McCauley The Associated Press
The Mankato Free Press
---- — SAN FRANCISCO — A pair of NFC playoff contenders sure brought their physical, hard-hitting styles to a preseason matchup in late August.
Enough that the Minnesota Vikings were considering sending one particular play to the NFL for review after their 34-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams got his right knee tangled up with offensive lineman Joe Looney early in the third quarter, and Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier heard from his coaches in the booth that it might be worth mailing to the league.
Williams underwent an MRI on Monday which indicated a hyperextension but nothing more serious.
"That's the one (hit) we're most concerned about," Frazier said after the game. "I didn't see it, but the guys upstairs were telling me it was one of those we may want to send it to the league. They were pretty upset when they saw it. I'll have to take a look at it."
Frazier had every reason to be concerned given there were several other rough blows to his players — and San Francisco's Lavelle Hawkins found himself apologizing to his team and coach Jim Harbaugh afterward for a trio of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Hawkins returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter, but was flagged for pointing the ball at a Vikings player before reaching the end zone and also for removing his helmet in celebration. Harbaugh chewed him out on the sideline, and Hawkins could be seen saying, "My fault."
Yet Hawkins received another unsportsmanlike flag for head-butting linebacker Desmond Bishop after flipping the ball toward safety Mistral Raymond following a 22-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
"Probably the two-strike level," Harbaugh said when asked about Hawkins' status. "He's definitely got to do a better job of not getting emotionally hijacked after doing something great."
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was better than he has been, but was it good enough? Minnesota spent extra time last week working to get their offense going after a pair of lackluster preseason games, and Ponder showed some improvement.
He went 17 for 23 for 116 yards and two touchdowns, a step up after two unimpressive outings and a 28.3 passer rating.
"We started off a little slow but we did end on a positive note, which we are happy with," said Ponder, who welcomed the return of star running back Adrian Peterson for a brief appearance.
San Francisco's Kendall Hunter played in Sunday's game and that, in and of itself, was a big positive. His first carry since tearing his left Achilles' tendon in late November was a memorable one: a 15-yard burst.
Just being on the field was a big deal. He was only cleared for full practice Aug. 10.
Hunter, a fourth-round draft pick in 2011 out of Oklahoma State, had 72 carries for 371 yards and two touchdowns last season in an increased role as the team's second-leading rusher behind Frank Gore before getting hurt at New Orleans on Nov. 25. He later underwent surgery.
Hunter isn't putting up any fancy predictions given all of the hard work he put in just to get back on the field and provide some timely relief for Gore.
"Just to come back and show them that I'm back ready to play, and whenever they need me they can count on me," Hunter said. "So, I'm ready to prove that."
The Vikings' Adrian Peterson barely played but he said not to worry. He played only two snaps but the reigning NFL MVP insists he will be ready to roll when the season opener arrives Sept. 8 at Detroit.
"It's all about keeping your body in shape, doing the necessary things as far as conditioning and working out, just making sure your body is ready to roll."
He didn't touch the ball in this game, which kicks off a year in which he will try to become the first player with consecutive 2,000-yard rushing seasons.
"He's a big part of this offense. He's ready to go," Ponder said.
"Once he gets in there against Detroit, we won't miss a beat. We were trying to develop some other things in our offense without him, and we don't want to get him hurt."
The 49ers Quinton Patton is finally healthy. San Francisco fourth-round draft pick Quinton Patton was prevented from catching passes two-handed for three weeks during training camp as he nursed a broken left index finger.
But on Sunday, his first professional reception was a pretty 19-yard gain in which he split defenders down the middle seam. He capped the impressive drive with a 5-yard touchdown reception and a creative end zone dance.
He didn't look too far behind despite not playing the first two preseason games.
"It felt great to get back out there with everybody," he said. "I kind of felt like I was being left out."
San Francisco's defense looks pretty good on the right edge as Aldon and Justin Smith were at their menacing best. They disrupted Ponder at every chance, and showed that the 49ers will bring one of the NFL's top defenses for a third straight season.
Justin Smith ran over two would-be blockers to pound Toby Gerhart for a 4-yard loss midway through the first quarter.
"Justin Smith had a burr in his saddle or something tonight," Harbaugh said. "He was Justin Smith. It was great."
Sack man Aldon Smith recovered a first-quarter fumble, and San Francisco capitalized with its first scoring drive.