More than one player in the San Francisco locker room mentioned attitude. As in, the Vikings had one and the 49ers didn't.
Start with 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. "They came out with a different attitude," he said of the Vikings. "They came out to play."
The suggestion is perhaps the 49ers didn't in a 24-13 defeat. You could feel some shock in the 49ers locker room postgame Sunday. After a 2-0 start with victories at Green Bay and against Detroit, many felt San Francisco was the closest thing to NFC royalty. The Vikings? After a deflating loss in Indianapolis last week, some had them painted as court jesters.
Nobody was laughing in the 49ers locker room.
"I can say we were the team to beat," linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. "And they came out and beat us."
The 49ers seemed at least a bit surprised by it all.
"On the offensive side of the ball we never got into a rhythm," said quarterback Alex Smith, whose team-record interception-free streak ended at 249 passes in the fourth quarter after a pass was picked off by Vikings rookie cornerback Josh Robinson. "We just didn't execute."
Looking for a turning point? Many will point to the Vikings' 86-yard TD drive after the 49ers had pulled within 17-13 in the third quarter. Smith, though, pointed to two early passes to receiver Randy Moss.
Moss was making his first regular- season appearance in Minnesota as a member of an opposing team. While has role has been limited since returning to the NFL after a year off, the feeling was perhaps Moss might break out against his old team.
Smith clearly looked for him early. Down 7-0, the 49ers drove from their 35-yard line to the Vikings 18. There, on second-and-8 and with Vikings cornerback Chris Cook defending him, Moss got open in the end zone, but Smith threw high. The ball went off the hands, incomplete. Two plays later, the 49ers settled for a field goal.
"I hit that, for a touchdown, it changes the game," Smith said.
As it was, the theme of the game became the Vikings being more physical than the rough and tough 49ers. As for Moss, he was essentially benched for the fourth quarter. After the game he answered three questions. He thanked the Vikings fans, said he wasn't surprised at how well the Vikings played. When asked about playing time he said, "Next question."
The 49ers had a difficult time answering the simplest question: What happened?
"The Vikings did a better job than we did all the way around," said a typically terse coach Jim Harbaugh. "We didn't get it done. There are a lot of reasons for that."
Harbaugh insisted the 49ers didn't take the Vikings lightly. But safety Donte Whitner hinted differently.
"We didn't execute today, they did," he said when asked if the Vikings' scheme surprised them. "Today was more of an attitude thing today with us, not a scheme thing."