Before Sunday's Vikings-49ers game, coach Brad Childress suggested to wide receivers coach George Stewart, "Don't be afraid to play Greg Lewis."

Lewis had been signed as a free agent three days before the season opener at Cleveland, after New England released him. Lewis had played for Childress with Philadelphia after making the Eagles roster as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois in 2003.

To make room for Lewis, popular veteran receiver Bobby Wade was released, and there was some criticism of the move in the Vikings locker room.

"I had in my mind the whole game what Brad said," Stewart said. "... Greg has been in this offense for seven years. It's the same offense he's been in in Philadelphia, same offense here. So, it wasn't new for him."

Childress liked Lewis' athleticism better than Wade's. So Wade was let go, and he ended up with Kansas City; he caught six passes for 72 yards in his Chiefs debut last week and had two for 19 yards, including a touchdown, Sunday against the Eagles.

As for Lewis, he was inactive the first two weeks of the season. So he was making his Vikings debut Sunday, playing three plays in the first half. Stewart put Lewis in the game with only 12 seconds to play and the Vikings trailing 24-20 with the ball on the San Francisco 32. But it was Lewis who caught Brett Favre's 32-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone with only 2 seconds left to give the Vikings a 27-24 victory over the 49ers.

"[No. 3 receiver] Percy Harvin was tired," Stewart said. "Percy couldn't run. He was extremely spent. You know, he was ill during the course of the week.

"And I just looked out there, and I just felt it was time to put fresh legs in."

The Vikings also had lost receiver Darius Reynaud to an injury on a punt return earlier in the game.

Stewart said he noted that the San Francisco defenders were also tired.

"I saw that, and you put in a fresh body [in Lewis] and you have a chance to win," Stewart said. "Lewis did a great job of getting open. It was a case of having fresh legs on the field. Greg was fresh, and he made a big-time play for us."

Stewart added: "I love Greg Lewis. He's a pro. He's a veteran. He's been in the league for seven years, and he's made plays like that in Philadelphia. You know, Bill Belichick always wanted to have him and they signed him as a free agent in New England. Unfortunately, he didn't make the team. ... But he did a great job for us today."

Childress will tell you that he hired the best wide receivers coach in the NFL when Stewart became available. And the move he made to put Lewis in is just one of many good moves he has made since he joined the Vikings staff.

Takes blame for TD

Normally, Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson doesn't hang around long enough after the game to be interviewed by the media. But Sunday he stayed late because he wanted everybody to know that it was his fault that Ryan Longwell's first-half field goal was blocked by Ray McDonald, resulting in a 49ers touchdown after Nate Clemens picked up the ball and ran it in from 59 yards. That play made what could have been a 16-7 Vikings halftime lead instead turn into a 14-13 deficit.

"You know, there's things that everybody can work on, myself included," Hutchinson said. "We were up getting ready to go in at halftime, and then the blocked field goal was, as far as I'm concerned, my responsibility.

"I let a guy in the outside gap there get through and block it. If it wasn't for that ... that's a 10-point swing, and all the momentum goes in their locker room at halftime. So that's something I'm going to want to fix, we're going to want to fix going forward from here."

Hutchinson proved he is a class act by taking responsibility for the blocked kick the way he did.

Hutchinson said he had a lot of respect for the 49ers, who nearly won despite going almost the entire game without their great running back, Frank Gore. Gore injured his ankle last week and limped off the field after his first run of the game.

"They're strong up front. They're relentless. They did a good job," Hutchinson said of the 49ers defense. "That's the best defense we've seen so far."

Need to improve

No doubt Childress was happy to win. But if the Vikings are to be a consistent winner this season, they can't get a field goal blocked for a touchdown, they can't let an intercepted pass lead to another touchdown and they can't have big plays negated, such as when Favre was over the line of scrimmage on his 26-yard completion to Sidney Rice.

Childress said the Vikings have a lot of things to work on.

The Vikings won the statistics battle. They had 19 first downs to San Francisco's 13, 377 yards of offense to the 49ers' 246 and a 32:09-27.51 time-of-possession advantage. But they had to have a miracle finish to win.

The 49ers didn't hold Adrian Peterson to 3 rushing yards like they did two years ago, but they did find a way to stop him a lot of the time Sunday. He ran for 45 yards in the first quarter but had only 40 the rest of the way. "They did a good up stacking the line," Peterson said.

Regarding the 49ers holding down Peterson, Childress said: "I just thought they were flat along the line of scrimmage and were able to string a lot of things out. We weren't able to change the line of scrimmage or cut the line of scrimmage. ... There was a couple [of runs] he was able to circle the defense, but not many. Their linebackers played well."

Tough loss

Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was obviously happy to win but felt a little sorry for his close friend and former Chicago Bears teammate, 49ers coach Mike Singletary.

"Yes, it's tough. You know, when we're not playing I'm always rooting for him," Frazier said. "And, when we're not playing he's rooting for us."

Asked how he felt about the performance of the Vikings defense, Frazier said: "We did a lot of good things, but we gave up a couple of drives there that we can't give up. So we've got to go back and take a look at the tape and figure out how we can stop that from happening.

"They have a very good offensive line, and I thought we did a great job against their run game. You know, we did a lot of good things, but some things we can clean up."

He also acknowledged that the 49ers were hurt by the absence of Gore. "That's a big loss for their offense, and we tried to take advantage of it," Frazier said. "But, give them some credit, they played hard."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com