After three turnovers, an 18-point deficit, and offensive red-zone incompetence, the 49ers had one final chance.
Trailing 24-16 with 1:49 remaining, Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers offense had the ball on their 11-yard line with one timeout. Two plays in, Garoppolo threw an interception — his third of the day — to squash all hopes for a comeback.
The Vikings beat the 49ers in their 2018 season opener, 24-16.
It was a fitting way to end a game filled with mental mistakes. One drive earlier, the Vikings opted to go for it on fourth and 1 in their own territory. In reality, they were likely trying to bait the 49ers into jumping offsides before punting the ball.
Solomon Thomas took the bait.
The second-year 49ers defensive lineman jumped offsides, giving the Vikings the first down. The 49ers forced a punt, but Thomas’ gaffe stripped them of two vital timeouts. It was a monumental mental lapse on a day filled with them.
The 49ers had their chances in a tough matchup to start the season. They visited the Vikings in a place they lost just one game in 2017. With Jerick McKinnon losing his season with a torn ACL, no Reuben Foster, and a young, inexperienced team visiting one of the league’s most well-rounded teams, the odds were stacked against the 49ers.
In order to win, they needed to play mistake-free football. They did not.
Garoppolo threw three second half interceptions. San Francisco converted just one of its four red zone trips into touchdowns. Minnesota converted its lone red zone trip into a touchdown.
The first half featured little offensive success from the 49ers. Garoppolo completed just eight of his 20 passes. He finished 15 for 33 with 261 yards and a touchdown.
San Francisco’s best chance of the opening half came on their fourth drive, using 13 plays to advance to Minnesota’s one-yard line. But recently acquired Alfred Morris fumbled on a run up the middle, and the Vikings recovered.
The 49ers, trailing 13-6, forced a stop on the opening drive of the second half. Three plays into San Francisco’s offensive drive, Garoppolo threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, extending the Minnesota lead to 20-6.
The 49ers responded but continued a troubling trend from last season: effective ball movement wasted with red zone deficiencies. Garoppolo connected with fullback Kyle Juszyzck on a 56-yard pass up the sideline to move the 49ers into Vikings’ territory. But the 49ers couldn’t find the end zone. On third and six, Garoppolo lobbed a throw to Garcon, who elevated and failed to make a contested grab in the end zone. Once again, the 49ers settled for a Robbie Gould field goal.
The Vikings responded with a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, accentuated with one pinpoint Kirk Cousins throw after another. He found Kyle Rudolph in the back of the end zone, and the made point after attempt extended Minnesota’s lead, 24-6.
With the 49ers in danger of letting the game go, Garoppolo hit his stride. He led the 49ers for a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. He rolled to his left and threw across his body to rookie Dante Pettis for a toe-tapping touchdown, his first NFL catch.
The 49ers forced a three-and-out, but Garoppolo overthrew Pettis for an interception on the ensuing drive. The San Francisco defense stepped up again, though, forcing another three-and-out, resulting in a punt.
Trailing 24-13 in the fourth quarter, the 49ers marched 82 yards downfield to the Minnesota four-yard line. But they couldn’t convert. They settled for a field goal — again.
Garoppolo’s final interception sealed San Francisco’s fate.
The 49ers return to Levi’s Stadium to host the Detroit Lions next Sunday.