• MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 09: Dalvin Cook #33 of the Minnesota Vikings fumbles the ball in the second quarter of the game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

  • MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 09: Harrison Smith #22 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates after recovering a fumbled ball in the second quarter of the game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

  • Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) catches an 11-yard touchdown pass in front of San Francisco 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt, right, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

  • MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 09: David Morgan #89 of the Minnesota Vikings and Richard Sherman #25 of the San Francisco 49ers attempt to recover a fumbled ball in the second quarter of the game at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

  • Kyle Rudolph #82 of the Minnesota Vikings catches the ball in the end zone for a touchdown over defender Jaquiski Tartt #29 of the San Francisco 49ers in the third quarter of the game at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  • San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis, left, celebrates with teammate Pierre Garcon, right, after catching a 22-yard touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

  • Dante Pettis #18 of the San Francisco 49ers catches the ball for a touchdown in the third quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  • San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis (18) runs from Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes (21) after making a reception during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

  • Minnesota Vikings defensive back Xavier Rhodes (29) intercepts a pass intended for San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis (18) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

  • MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 09: Kyle Rudolph #82 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter of the game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

  • MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 09: San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan gestures while on the field in the first half of the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

  • Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray (25) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers defensive back Adrian Colbert during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

  • Dante Pettis #18 of the San Francisco 49ers loses the ball as Trae Waynes #26 of the Minnesota Vikings breaks up the play in the first half of the game at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  • Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers is sacked by Everson Griffen #97 of the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter of the game at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

  • Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, left, is sacked by San Francisco 49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner (99) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

  • Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen, right, runs from San Francisco 49ers defensive back K’Waun Williams, left, after making a reception during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

  • Dalvin Cook #33 of the Minnesota Vikings carries the ball in the first quarter of the game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  • Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a pass over San Francisco 49ers defensive back K’Waun Williams (24) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

  • Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings is sacked with the ball by DeForest Buckner #99 of the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter of the game at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

  • Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) celebrates after catching a 22-yard touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

  • Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings passes the ball to Dalvin Cook #33 in the first quarter of the game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

  • Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen, right, runs from San Francisco 49ers defensive back K’Waun Williams, left, after making a reception during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

  • Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates with teammates after throwing a touchdown pass in the second quarter of the game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  • Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers drops back to hand off the ball in the first quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

  • Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, bottom, is sacked by San Francisco 49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner (99) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

  • San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings defensive back Holton Hill (24) after making a reception during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

  • San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (11) is helped off the field after getting injured during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

  • Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen runs from San Francisco 49ers defensive back K’Waun Williams, left, after making a reception during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

  • San Francisco 49ers defensive back Richard Sherman, center, celebrates with teammate DeForest Buckner, right, after recovering a fumble during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

  • Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) fumbles the ball as he is tackled by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner, right, during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

  • Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers is sacked by Everson Griffen #97 of the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter of the game at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  • A general view inside U.S. Bank Stadium before the game between the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  • Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, left, is sacked by San Francisco 49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner (99) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

  • Fans stand and observe the National Anthem before the game between the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

  • Marquise Goodwin #11 of the San Francisco 49ers raises a fist during the National Anthem before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

of

Expand
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

(CLICK HERE, if you are unable to view this photo gallery on your mobile device.)

Get 49ers news in your inbox. Sign up now for the free 49ers HQ newsletter.

The 49ers had a chance to beat the Minnesota Vikings in the season opener. In fact, they had several chances.

Great teams don’t miss opportunities like the 49ers missed on Sunday, but no one should be expecting greatness from these 49ers.

No, this is a rebuilding team in year two of the renovation — you’re merely looking for this team to be competent.

And even though the 49ers lost 24-16 — even though it’s Week One of the season and you shouldn’t draw too much from these early-season contests — Kyle Shanahan’s team proved that it’s absolutely that.

A lesser team would have been blown out by those Vikings — a team with a defense so good you’d be hard pressed to say it’s not the best in the NFL and a new quarterback in Kirk Cousins who was rock-solid on Sunday. NFL teams hate to view a loss as a “moral victory” but that’s exactly what the 49ers achieved on Sunday.

They had a chance to tie a team well-regarded as an NFC favorite in the final minutes of a game on the road. Even though it’s Week One, that’s enough to deem that the Niners are going to be competitive — and not the patronizing well-they-tried-really-hard way — this season.

But when you add context — when you take into account every bad break and failed opportunity the 49ers had on Sunday — it only strengthens their case.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan gestures while on the field in the first half of the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

“We blew a lot of opportunities,” Shanahan said after the game, to the shock of no one. “You can’t do that against a good team.”

And yet they did, and no one who merely looks at the final score will be any the wiser.

Yes, the Niners had a chance to beat — or at least tie — the Vikings despite :

• Not having running back Jerick McKinnon, the man around whom much of the 49ers’ playbook was built. (Shanahan clearly didn’t change the playbook much despite having a far-less-versatile backfield Sunday)• Not having Marquise Goodwin — the team’s second-most important offensive player — who was injured early in the first half and only took the field for a few snaps after that• Injuries to their starting right guard — Mike Person — and their backup right guard — Josh Garnett — leading to rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey having to slide inside for the majority of the game• Not having starting linebackers Reuben Foster (suspension) or Malcolm Smith (a seemingly perpetual state of injury)• Terrible red-zone offense• A backbreaking lost fumble near the goal line at the end of the first half• An inexcusable neutral zone infraction by Solomon Thomas in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter, shaving another minute off the clock• Two missed connections on what should have been George Kittle touchdown catches• Three interceptions from Garoppolo — including a pick-six• Starting running back Alfred Morris gaining 38 yards on his first six carries of the game… only to not gain a yard on for the rest of the game• The Vikings’ offense playing well, all things considered (Cousins had a QB rating of 95.1; Minnesota ran for 116 yards)

It’s a stunning list. It’s one that would have burried easily a dozen NFL teams. It certainly would’ve burried the Niners, pre-Garoppolo, last year.

Yet the 49ers had the ball with a chance to tie in the final 1:49.

So while no one in red and gold has to like the loss, they do have to take it as something close to a positive and move forward, better for the experience.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo warms up before an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

There are some issues on that long list that can be easily corrected — you can chalk a few of them up to early-season rust or brain farts.

Some — particularly the injuries — might linger for the next few weeks.

I don’t know if the red zone issues fall in camp A or B, but if you’re looking for some doom and gloom after one game of 16, here you go:

If anything separated the Niners from the Vikings, it was San Francisco’s ability to punch the ball into the end zone once the goal line was in their field of vision. There’s plenty of blame to be passed around in that regard: Kyle Shanahan deserves some uncreative play calling in the first half, Morris deserves some for his two fumbles (one lost) in the second quarter, and Garoppolo needs to take plenty of it for straight-up missing Kittle in the back of the end zone early in the fourth quarter.

This is a serious concern, because the woes were a continuation from last year, when Garoppolo had one of the worst red zone completion percentages in the NFL — the closer to the goal line he pushed the Niners, the worse he was. Inside the 10-yard line, he completed only 37 percent of his passes in 2017. (Drew Brees, for the record, completed two of every three passes inside his opponent’s 10.)

Pair that with Shanahan’s playcalling — somehow his nearly unparalleled ability to scheme players open in the passing game is mitigated by a short field — and you have a problem with no obvious solution.

Again, maybe it’s just a one-week deal — offenses are always behind defenses early in the season — or perhaps it’s a long-term issue.

For the 49ers’ sake, it better be the latter.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that the 49ers were in the red zone four times Sunday. They were moving the ball down the field against one of the best defenses in the NFL — despite the negative circumstances in front of, behind, and around Garoppolo.

That’s unquestionably a positive. It means that the defense played well — despite not having much of a pass rush (outside of DeForest Buckner) or a linebacker core (outside of the superb play of rookie Fred Warner) — and that the offense, with Garoppolo and Shanahan working in tandem, has the potential to put up serious points in 2018.

At the same time, don’t forget that despite the end to last season, Garoppolo’s huge contract, and a ton of preseason hype, these 49ers are a work in progress. Garoppolo himself is a work in progress — Sunday was his eighth NFL start.

This a team on the rise that hasn’t come close to reaching its full potential yet. To have expected the 49ers to be a finished product in Week One of 2018 is merely a set-up to disappointment.

Did the Niners make progress on Sunday? Hard to say. But I can say this: That preseason hype wasn’t proven to be unjustified by Sunday’s performance.

Shanahan’s favorite trope is that he likes to see his team and players “get better every week.” We saw the baseline on Sunday. So if Shanahan’s players get better every week for rest of the 2018 season, the 49ers will be in a stellar position come the end of December.

blog comments powered by Disqus