Nobody knows anything about the NFL in 2023.
Two weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers were the best team in football. It wasn’t even a question. There were no warning signs or reasons to believe they were anything but the most complete and dominant team in the NFL.
But like the rest of the league this season, everything changed for no real reason. The 49ers lost as favorites in Week 6 at the Cleveland Browns, who had backup PJ Walker at quarterback, and then in Week 7 they lost again as heavy favorites. This time it was the Minnesota Vikings, who came in 2-4 and took it to the 49ers.
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Kirk Cousins, whose poor record on Monday nights has been mocked for years, had an excellent game and led a huge 22-17 win in Minneapolis. Brock Purdy had two chances to win the game in the fourth quarter but couldn’t make either of them happen, throwing a pair of interceptions, including one with 25 seconds left. The win moved the Vikings to 3-4 on the season.
The 49ers are still one of the best teams in the NFL, but bizarre back-to-back losses mean they’re vulnerable, just like everyone else.
Kirk Cousins shines on Monday night
Adding to the randomness of the Vikings’ Monday night upset was led by Cousins, whose teams were 2-10 the next Monday nights. Suddenly, Cousins, playing without injured star receiver Justin Jefferson, was slicing up the 49ers’ respectable defense.
Cousins has been the subject of trade speculation, but the Vikings are far from dead at 3-4 in a bad NFC. He was at his best Monday night, throwing for 378 yards and two touchdowns against a stellar defense and doing so without one of the NFL’s best running backs throwing for him.
The Vikings played well in the first half, then had a huge performance in the final seconds before halftime. Cousins threw a pass that was nearly intercepted, but rookie Jordan Addison wrestled it away, turned up and went for a 60-yard touchdown. The Vikings led 16-7 after that.
It was a terrible call by 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. It didn’t make sense with 16 seconds left and the Vikings at their own 40 to send a cover 0, all-out offense, considering the only thing that was going to hurt the 49ers was the deep pass. According to Next Generation statisticsIt was the first seven-man rush in the final 30 seconds of the half into opposing territory since Week 11, 2020.
The NFL is usually decided by thin margins, and the 49ers gave up a touchdown.
Brooke Purdy throws 2 picks
The 49ers were outscored most of the night but were still in the game in the second half. The Vikings settled for a field goal after two failed “Tush Push” attempts from the 1-yard line and a failed punt by Cousins in the end zone. McCaffrey then scored his second goal of the game and the 49ers trailed 19-14.
The 49ers and Vikings then exchanged field goals and the Vikings maintained a 22-17 lead deep into the fourth quarter. The 49ers had a few shots to win it. But with 5:30 to go, Purdy took down Juwan Jennings and Vikings safety Camryn Bynum. This is the kind of error that will fuel Purdy’s critics.
San Francisco still had one more shot when Vikings kicker Greg Joseph missed a 50-yard field goal with 1:11 left. It would have been Purdy’s redemption. The 49ers got into Vikings territory in the final minute. But Purdy, in a desperate situation, threw another interception to Bynum and the game was over.
The 49ers were on top of the NFL world two weeks ago. The Vikings were 1-4, had just lost Jefferson to a hamstring injury and were probably closer to trading everyone away than thinking about the playoffs. Two weeks seem like an eternity in the NFL this season. More than ever, nothing is permanent.
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