SAN FRANCISCO -- The best thing about the Vikings' 15-10 preseason loss Sunday night to the 49ers is that it means the third exhibition game soon will be played.
Coach Brad Childress confirmed he plans to handle that game as he usually does, meaning most of the Vikings starters are likely to play into the third quater on Saturday night against Seattle at the Metrodome. That includes quarterback Brett Favre and running back Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings are going to need to use that tune-up to sharpen things up as they prepare for their Sept. 9 regular-season opener in New Orleans. (Keep in mind, starters don't play in the final preseason game so Saturday night will be of real importance.)
Here are a few observations and notes from tonight. I'm not going to go heavy on Favre because he's a big part of the daily coverage in the Monday paper.
- First-team defense: The Vikings won the toss but elected to defer, putting their defense on the field first. It didn't work out too well as San Francisco drove 70 yards on 12 plays to take a 7-0 lead on Anthony Dixon's 4-yard touchdown run in which he was able to bounce outside and beat cornerback Asher Allen to the end zone. Part of the issue was safety Madieu Williams played the run inside. "I thought it took us just a second to warm up," Childress said. "I thought we played better in the second series. We didn't make that guy [quarterback Alex Smith] particularly uncomfortable back there." The 49ers converted three of three third-down chances on the first drive, including a third-and-11 from the Vikings 15 on which Smith found tight end Delanie Walker, who beat E.J. Henderson. The 49ers ended up going 6-for-16 on third downs.
- Sanford winning the battle? On Friday, Childress went through much of what he planned to do when it came to playing time. One thing he elected not to mention was that Jamarca Sanford would start at strong safety in place of Tyrell Johnson. In fact, Johnson did not get on the field until the third quarter -- something that I found surprising. Because of how locker room access worked -- essentially players were available at the same time Childress and Favre were speaking -- and the fact we only have one reporter on the road for the preseason, I was unable to talk to Johnson. Sanford downplayed the fact he appears to be edging ahead of Johnson in the battle for the starting job, but the playing time he saw Sunday night really told the story. Johnson did get to take out his frustrations in the third quarter when he put a big hit on 49ers tight end Nate Byham. Byham failed to hang onto the ball and ended up down on the turf.
- Peterson in pass protection: The good news for Peterson on Sunday is I did not see a play in which he appeared to have any problem holding onto the football. The bad news was that linebacker Patrick Willis went by him much too easily to sack Favre. Peterson has to be better in this area -- no questions asked. Chester Taylor is gone and Peterson needs to be able to stay in on third down and provide pass protection to a guy who isn't mobile. This isn't up for debate. If Peterson struggles with this area it's going to be a major issue. "That was my fault," Peterson said. "I stepped up in the 'A' gap and I got out tempoed. Willis being the great backer tht he is got underneath me and pushed me right into him. That is something that I will have to clean up."
- Offensive line must show more: Yes, center John Sullivan is out and the Vikings are trying some different things with the line, such as having Anthony Herrera take some snaps at center in the second series. But this line has to do a better job of protecting its quarterback on a consistent basis. This includes the starters. A few times Sunday night it appeared left tackle Bryant McKinnie had his struggles. Tarvaris Jackson, who isn't an immobile quarterback, took a pounding. Much of it came from linebacker Travis LaBoy, who sacked Jackson once and threw him to the ground two other times. The line took some heat last season -- at times for its running blocking -- but this unit is going to need to prove its pass protection is better than it was Sunday or the Saints might make Favre's life extremely difficult.
- Tackle a real concern: I asked Childress after tonight's game, "Who is your backup left tackle?" It was a legit question considering that Chris Clark has done nothing to impress in his two preseason games. He struggled again in protection tonight after taking four penalties in the preseason opener in St. Louis. Right now, Pat Brown and Clark are listed as McKinnie's backup and there appears a chance Ryan Cook could end up in that spot if it comes to that. If something happens to McKinnie, the Vikings could be in big trouble at this point. Artis Hicks is already missed.
- Mr. Excitement: I've gone back and forth on whether I think the Vikings could get quarterback Joe Webb through waivers and onto the practice squad. Webb, a sixth-round pick who originally was going to be moved to wide receiver, is extremely raw, but I have a feeling he would be claimed. That's based on what teams will see from his game film. Playing the fourth quarter on Sunday, he completed seven of 14 passes for 47 yards and rushed for 53 yards on three carries, including a 48-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Webb also showed his inexperience by taking a sack for a safety to end the game. The thing with Webb is that with all the offensive gimmicks used by teams these days I think a club would claim him and then try to design some situations for him. The Vikings actually might have hurt themselves by playing this kid at all in the preseason. If Webb is kept on the 53, odds are Sage Rosenfels' days in Minnesota are numbered.
- Here's the catch: The Vikings offense doesn't appear to be all that sharp but there is a real issue here. With Sidney Rice (hip) and Percy Harvin (migraines) out, Bernard Berrian is the only clear-cut real starting receiver on this team. Greg Lewis is a solid veteran and a good guy to have around but he isn't a guy you would peg as a starter. Logan Payne has impressed this camp but once again isn't starter material. He had only one reception and one ball thrown his way on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings decide to sign Javon Walker. He might not be what he used to but if Rice and Harvin are out for any period -- and with Harvin you just don't know -- Walker might find himself in the mix. Harvin is expected to practice this week, potentially as early as Tuesday.
- OK, I lied: One Favre related item. I asked him about calling a meeting Thursday to address the Yahoo! Sports report that he had disdain for Childress and almost didn't return for that reason. "I would say at times we disagreed on certain things, but our relationship is fine," Favre said. "It really is. I think any successful team, really any team generally, there's going to be a difference between coaches and players. I would say more so on a successful team because everyeone thinks they're right." Favre said he and Childress were fine the next day after they had words on the sideline last December in Carolina. "Every coach that's ever coached me, I would say we've had differences at times, and I would say they were right," Favre said. "I can be a little hard-headed at times, but that's the competitive nature that I have."
- Sunday's scratches: Those who did not play the Vikings Sunday night included Harvin, cornerback DeAndre Wright, linebacker J Leman, Sullivan and defensive tackle Pat Williams. Wright appeared to injure his knee in practice last week and Leman has been battling turf toe. Williams simply doesn't play much in the preseason. He is 37-years-old and doesn't really need the reps. That gives Jimmy Kennedy more time at nose tackle.
- A final thought: Am I the only one who finds Candlestick Park to be a pretty cool place. The press box isn't in great shape, the stadium as a whole is beyond outdated but when you consider the history of this place it's pretty cool. The Beatles played their final concert here, Willie McCovey's line drive with two runners on base was caught by Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson with two outs in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series to end it and the 49ers had some magical seasons here with Joe Montana. Heck, this place survived the 1989 World Series earthquake. It might be old and run down now but this stadium is still worth appreciating.