MINNEAPOLIS -- The 49ers built themselves into Super Bowl contenders early last season by winning on the road and doing so in comeback fashion.
They lost that knack Sunday.
Needing to overcome a 14-point halftime deficit, the previously unbeaten 49ers tried to rally but ultimately flopped in a 24-13 defeat to the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field.
"We were the team to beat," 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said, "and those guys came in and gave us their best shot."
Those guys, the Vikings, went 3-13 last season while the 49ers raced to a 13-3 mark, including four road wins via fourth-quarter comebacks. Now both franchises share 2-1 records.
Inside the sullen 49ers locker room, several players offered "hats off" to the Vikings. Talking in soft voices, the 49ers also offered many "what ifs" and lamented their plentiful, uncharacteristic mistakes.
"We all have fingerprints on it," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Now it's a matter of bouncing back and making darn sure it doesn't happen again."
The 49ers will stew on this for five days in Youngstown, Ohio, before forging ahead to next Sunday's game against the host New York Jets. A year ago, the 49ers spent their layover in Youngstown fresh from a comeback win at Cincinnati, then rallied for a bigger triumph at Philadelphia as part of an eight-game win streak.
There's a lot that can't "happen again" if the 49ers wish to avoid their first losing streak under Harbaugh. Here's a brief roll call of Sunday's gaffes:
"Unfortunately we weren't able to overcome mistakes," 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin said. "They definitely played better than us. This is a tough league. Not too many people go the whole season without this feeling."
The 49ers struck a familiar chord by rallying in the third quarter, starting with Kyle Williams' 94-yard kickoff return. That led to Akers' second field goal of the day, and then the 49ers pulled within 17-13 on Vernon Davis' fourth touchdown catch this season.
For the first time this season, the 49ers found themselves trailing, and they did so promptly by allowing an opponent to score on the opening drive. On fourth-and-goal, Ponder threw the first of his two touchdown passes to Rudolph.
The 49ers pulled within 7-3 on Akers' 29-yard field goal early in the second quarter, two snaps after Smith overthrew an open Randy Moss near the front left pylon.
Rather than retreat, the Vikings attacked, and Ponder dashed 23 yards through the spine of the 49ers defense for a touchdown and 14-3 lead 5:29 before halftime. A 52-yard Blair Walsh field goal on the final play of the first half gave Minnesota a 17-3 lead.
Apparently, Harbaugh's halftime message was similar to the simple one he doled out last year in Philadelphia, when the 49ers trailed 20-3 before winning 24-23. "We needed to execute better in the second half, and we had to go out and fight," Harbaugh said of his speech.
It was an ugly fight to the finish, for all parties involved. Not only did the 49ers commit three turnovers in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings lost two of three fumbles, and the replacement officials errantly allowed the 49ers an extra timeout.
"The Vikings did a better job than we did, all the way around," Harbaugh said. "We didn't get it done. There are a lot of reasons. We're not going to start pointing fingers or making excuses."
Instead, they're making their way to Youngstown on a much more somber note than a year ago.
49ers (2-1) at
N.Y. Jets (2-1),
10 a.m. FOX
Randy Moss mostly a forgotten man in his return to Minnesota.
49ers defense has no answers as Vikings offense plays keep-away.