Kirk Cousins passed for two touchdowns in his much-anticipated Minnesota debut, and the Vikings forced four turnovers to fuel a 24-16 victory over San Francisco on Sunday to stick 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with his first loss in eight games as an NFL starter.
Cousins connected with Stefon Diggs in the second quarter and Kyle Rudolph in the third quarter for scores, and the defense finished the job with three sacks and three second-half interceptions of Garoppolo. Mike Hughes turned one pick into a 28-yard touchdown return, the first by a rookie in a Vikings season opener.
“I’m so grateful for this opportunity that I’ve been given, and I just want to make good on it with every chance I get,” said Cousins, who had no turnovers.
Harrison Smith sealed the game with an interception with 1:35 left. He also recovered a fumble by Alfred Morris at the 2-yard line after Linval Joseph stripped the ball just in front of the goal line in the late in the first half and sacked Garoppolo on a third-down safety blitz.
“We knew it was going to be a tough challenge with the environment, going against a tough team,” Garoppolo said. “They stood up to everything we thought they would, but with all the things that went bad we still had a shot at the end there. Just a tough way to end it.”
Garoppolo finished 15 for 33 for 261 yards and a touchdown pass to rookie Dante Pettis. With an injury depleted offensive line in front of him and the absence of top wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, Garoppolo was unable to capitalize on the opportunity for a comeback after the 49ers defense forced three straight three-and-out possessions by the Vikings to start the fourth quarter. DeForest Buckner had 2½ sacks for San Francisco.
Cousins went 20 for 36 for 244 yards, targeting Adam Thielen 12 times. He caught six passes for 102 yards.
“He played the way he always does,” said cornerback Richard Sherman, who made his 49ers debut. “Efficient. Doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He’s poised and doesn’t get rattled.”
Garoppolo won twice for New England in 2016 during Tom Brady’s suspension and guided the 49ers to five straight wins to finish last season after he arrived in a trade with the Patriots and they fell to 1-10, but his opening assignment for 2018 was bound to be his toughest test yet.
The Vikings used their star-stacked defense to finish 13-3 last year and reach the NFC championship game, leading the NFL in fewest yards and points allowed and third down conversions against. Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium is one of the loudest places in the league for opponents to play.
Tight end George Kittle had five catches for 90 yards, but the one he didn’t make was the one that stood out. Wide open after beating Anthony Barr up the seam, Kittle had what would’ve been a 30-yard completion fall off his fingers at midfield. The third-down interception by Hughes came next to give the Vikings a 17-3 lead.
“Misjudged it,” Kittle said. “Thought it was a little closer to me. Probably ran a bit too far with my arms out. Just a bad play.”
Fred Zamberletti, the team’s original athletic trainer who died last week at age 86, was honored with a pregame moment of silence. The Vikings also staged a 20th anniversary tribute to the 1998 squad that went 15-1 and reached the NFC championship game. Robert Smith, one of 28 former players who were introduced at halftime, received the loudest ovation. He focused on the current team at the end of his speech.
“We want to see them accomplish something that we weren’t able to do,” Smith told the crowd, “and we want them to do it for you.”
49ers: Goodwin hurt his right quadriceps in the first quarter and didn’t return. … RG Mike Person went down in the second quarter. His replacement Joshua Garnett was hurt in the third quarter, both with left foot injuries. With three backups on the OL already inactive, rookie Mike McGlinchey moved from RT to RG for the first time in his life while Garry Gilliam took over at RT … With two starters at LB already out, Malcolm Smith (hamstring) and Reuben Foster (suspension), Smith’s sub, Brock Coyle, suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter and needed several minutes to get up.
Vikings: CB Trae Waynes hurt his right knee while ripping a deep pass away from Pettis in the end zone in the second quarter and didn’t return. With Mackensie Alexander (ankle) inactive and Terence Newman retired, the Vikings had SS Jayron Kearse in slot coverage in the nickel defense with Hughes on the outside for Waynes.
49ers: Host Detroit next Sunday. They haven’t lost to the Lions at home since 1975, a streak of 12 straight wins.
Vikings: Play at Green Bay next Sunday. They haven’t faced the Packers on the road in September since the 2008 season opener.
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