MINNEAPOLIS — 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.
Harrison Smith, who sacked Garoppolo on a third-down safety blitz and had an interception late in the fourth quarter, 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.
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.
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 receptions for 90 yards, but the catch he didn't make was the one that stood out. Wide open after beating Anthony Barr up the same, Kittle had what would've been a 30-yard completion fall off his fingers at midfield. The third-down interception by Hughes was on the next play.
The Vikings staged a 20th anniversary tribute to the 1998 team that went 15-1 and set what was then the all-time single-season record for points scored, one of the best squads in NFL history that didn't reach a Super Bowl. Running back Robert Smith, one of 28 former players on hand for a halftime introduction, received the loudest ovation. Fred Zamberletti, the team's original athletic trainer who died last week at age 86, was honored with a pregame moment of silence.
"We want to see greatness from this team and 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 and his replacement Joshua Garnett was hurt in the third quarter, both with left foot injuries. With three backups on the OL already on the inactive list, rookie Mike McGlinchey had to move from RT to RG with Garry Gilliam taking his place. ... With two starters at LB already out, Malcolm Smith (hamstring) and Reuben Foster (suspension), Smith's sub, Brock Coyle, hurt his head and neck in the fourth quarter. He was down for several minutes before walking slowly off the field.
Vikings: CB Trae Waynes hurt his right knee while ripping a deep pass away from Pettis in the end zone in the second quarter. He didn't return. With Mackensie Alexander (ankle) inactive and Terence Newman now retired, the Vikings were down to four CBs so SS Jayron Kearse played slot coverage in the nickel package 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.