Carlos Hyde was by far the most productive No. 28 on the field Monday night, and his 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns propelled the 49ers to a 20-3 win over the Minnesota Vikings to begin the Jim Tomsula era.
The 49ers’ opening drive promised energy and fun – Tomsula hallmarks – as the team used new formations, wide runs and quarterback rollouts to quickly march deep into Vikings territory.
But as was the case a year ago, the offense stalled near the goal line and Phil Dawson’s 28-yard field-goal attempt was blocked. That triggered a string of errors, including a muffed punt return attempt by Jarryd Hayne and an illegal block that wiped out an 85-yard punt return by Bruce Ellington.
The 49ers regained their early punch late in the second quarter on a drive fueled by six runs by Hyde, who this season is taking over for franchise rushing leader Frank Gore.
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His best run came on the last play of the drive when he started to his right, spun around 180 degrees to shake off pursuing Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen and then out-sprinted the rest of the defense for a 10-yard touchdown.
“We’ve got to give it up to the 49ers,” Griffen said afterward. “They came out and played a fast physical game. We were tired out there.”
Hyde added a 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter on one of the many zone-blocking plays that seem to suit his cut-and-go style.
He carried the ball 26 times on the night – more than was planned – after backup running back Reggie Bush left the game with a calf injury in the first quarter.
“I didn’t expect it,” he said of the workload. “But you’ve always got to be ready. And tonight I was ready.”
Hyde also said he went into the contest wanting to be the best No. 28 on the field.
As has been the case in previous encounters with the Vikings, the 49ers’ defense mostly handled the other No. 28, Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, who had only four carries in the first half.
After Dawson kicked a 30-yard field goal in the third quarter to give San Francisco a 10-0 lead, the Vikings mostly threw the ball, and Peterson finished with 10 carries for 31 yards.
“I think guys were really up for this game,” said linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who was making his first start since a devastating knee injury in January 2014 and who noted that Peterson missed most of last year as well.
“I’m sure Adrian is going to get better during the season,” he said. “(This was) the first game in a long time for him.”
Bowman also had one of the five sacks of the evening on second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who seemed confused at times by San Francisco’s new-look defense and whose fourth-quarter interception effectively sealed the 49ers’ victory. The 49ers held the Vikings to 248 yards of offense; Minnesota only converted one of nine third-down attempts and was 0-2 on fourth down.
Hyde’s legs, meanwhile, also out-gained Colin Kaepernick’s arm. The quarterback finished with 165 passing yards and had no touchdowns. But he also had no turnovers, was sacked only once and gained 41 yards on the ground. On one of those runs – for a first down – he absorbed a huge hit by safety Harrison Smith.
“I thought Kap played a wonderful game,” Tomsula said. “He did whatever we asked him to.”
In the end, the 49ers won the game the way they used to: With a stout defense, a powerful running game and with a quarterback who made plays when he had to but who didn’t make mistakes.
It signaled that while the 49ers had an exodus of familiar faces – including Gore’s – during the offseason, perhaps the team’s strengths and its ability to win didn’t depart with them.
“I think it showed that we blocked out all those distractions,” Hyde said. “We came together as a group and as a team. There’s a good bond in that locker room – a bunch of guys that believe in each other. That’s all you need.”