The Dolphins beat the Patriots by 13 points in Week 1 last year, Knowshon Moreno’s 134 rushing yards led the NFL, and Tony Romo’s three-interception game against the 49ers prompted CBS analyst Phil Simms to say the Cowboys had “no chance” in 2014.
“If they can pull an 8-8 year out of this team,” Simms said, “it’ll be great.”
The Patriots, of course, ended up winning the Super Bowl. Moreno finished the season with 148 yards. And the Cowboys won 12 games, took the NFC East and reached the divisional round of the playoffs.
Which is to say: Don’t get too high or too low after Week 1 in the NFL, and, whatever you do, don’t make any grandiose pronouncements.
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If the Vikings had connected on an open deep pass in the end zone early in the second quarter of a scoreless game – or at least drawn a pass-interference penalty – Monday, it would have changed the tenor and perhaps the outcome. The 49ers, after all, outplayed opponents early in a number of games last season (vs. Chicago, at Arizona, vs. St. Louis) but found a way to lose.
With a blocked field goal, a muffed punt and a punt-return touchdown called back because of a penalty, Monday’s game began with a similar, spinning-their-wheels vibe.
This time, however, the 49ers took control in the second half. And if there’s a lasting takeaway in the game, it’s this: The 49ers played power football – a creative form of power football – from start to finish, something they failed to do last season.
They set the tone early by sending three tight ends onto the field and calling running plays on five of the first six snaps. They averaged 7.2 yards a carry on those five runs, and by the end of the opening drive, the 49ers noted that Minnesota’s defenders already had their hands on their hips and looked gassed.
The Vikings didn’t disagree.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn: “They were really physical up front. It seemed like they just kept running the ball and pounded us and we didn’t do a good job getting off blocks or making plays. We didn’t come out and establish stopping the run. It seemed like they did what they wanted to do.”
Defensive end Everson Griffen: “They came out and played a fast, physical game. We were tired out there.”
Linebacker Anthony Barr: “Honestly, they ran maybe two or three plays over and over again, and we just couldn’t stop it.”
Coach Mike Zimmer: “I think we got out-physicaled tonight.”
The 49ers took a modest 7-0 lead into halftime, then finished off the Vikings by giving the ball to Carlos Hyde 14 times in the second half.
Contrast that with last season when opponents seemed to gain new life in the second half. In the 2014 home opener, the 49ers blew a 20-7 second-half lead over Chicago. They led 14-6 at halftime the following week at Arizona and lost 23-14.
Hyde scored on a 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter Monday; the 49ers’ offense had two fourth-quarter touchdowns all of last season.
The blocking schemes are different, and the personnel has changed dramatically. But the 49ers’ formula Monday night was identical to the one Jim Harbaugh and his staff successfully used during his first three years in San Francisco: Stout defense + dedicated running game + mistake-free quarterback = win.
As Harbaugh’s teams proved, it’s a formula you can take on the road and one that does well in any weather. The 49ers will visit Seattle in late November, then travel to Chicago and Cleveland in December.
Is it one that also can win games in January the way Harbaugh’s teams once did?
Whoa, whoa, whoa! We’re getting ahead of ourselves. It’s only been one week.