Playing against his former team in the regular season for the first time, Randy Moss had a quiet afternoon with three catches for 27 yards. Frank Gore managed only 63 yards on 12 carries, and Alex Smith’s franchise-record interception-free streak ended at 249 passes when Vikings rookie Josh Robinson picked him off with 2:18 left.
Donte Whitner dropped a sure interception and a potential touchdown midway through the fourth quarter after Vikings receiver Michael Jenkins slipped on third down. David Akers had a 43-yard field goal blocked by Letroy Guion late in the first half. And Smith lost a fumble on a late sack by Jared Allen.
“I know the Vikings have always played teams tough, especially when they’re an underdog. That’s Minnesota football,” Moss said.
“We’ll keep going back at it.”
Smith finished 24 for 35 for 204 yards. He found tight end Vernon Davis on consecutive passes, the second one a 1-yard play-action fake, in the third quarter to pull within 17-13. The Vikings blew 17-0 and 20-0 halftime leads last September in losing consecutive home games to Tampa Bay and Detroit, and this was starting to set up the same way.
But with one third-and-goal pass by Ponder — Adrian Peterson was wide open next to Rudolph, who reached around Whitner for it — the lead was back to 11. The Vikings were on their way to burying that painful start to last year’s 3-13 record. That drive was fueled by three 49ers penalties, including two unnecessary roughness calls, one by Dashon Goldson against Rudolph.
“Knock on wood, but he’s playing some of the cleanest football I’ve ever seen somebody play at any age in the NFL,” said Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who had two sacks. He added: “He just has that poise about him.”
Peterson finished with 86 yards on 25 grueling carries, helping give Ponder some room to throw. The Vikings went 82 yards in 16 plays to start the game, but Peterson was stonewalled for 1 yard on second-and-goal at the 2 and no gain on third down. With inches to go, Ponder rolled left under pressure by Goldson and threw a floater off his back foot that Rudolph ran down in the corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead. Rudolph had four catches on that drive.