By Cam Inman
MINNEAPOLIS -- Randy Moss broke open toward the end zone, and Alex Smith lobbed a pass that could have paid off in a game-tying touchdown.
Instead, the pass sailed way over Moss, and the 49ers never did catch up to the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday's 24-13 defeat. So much for Moss winning -- or making much of a peep -- in his first game back in Minnesota since the 2004 season.
"If we hit that for a touchdown, it changes the game," Smith said of his 18-yard pass early in the second quarter.
If Moss didn't let a second-down pass bounce off his hands on the 49ers' first series, things also could have been different. By game's end, he caught only three passes for 27 yards in spot duty. Moss declined to comment on his playing time.
"I want to thank the fans for the love," Moss said. "We just didn't pull it through today."
Moss often stayed on the sideline when the 49ers went to a three-receiver set on passing downs, as they instead favored a trio of Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams. Though he at times sat quietly at the end of the bench, Moss did get up to talk to Smith about the one that got away, the second-quarter pass against one-on-one coverage at the goal line.
"He stayed positive the whole game," Smith said. "We've got to get better. We've got to hit those. Those opportunities don't happen often. You never know how many
of those you're going to get."
Having spent his first seven seasons with the Vikings, Moss wasn't surprised by the Vikings' performance, stating: "I know the Vikings have always played other teams tough, especially when they are the underdog. That is one thing that is Minnesota football." Needing a spark, the 49ers replaced Kendall Hunter with Williams to return the second-half kickoff, and Williams responded with a 94-yard sprint to the Vikings' 14-yard line. The 49ers came away with a 29-yard field goal from David Akers.
"Obviously we needed more because we didn't get the job done," Williams said of the series that gained only 8 yards on two runs and a Smith scramble.
Williams' second kickoff return went for 50 yards, but Frank Gore fumbled on the 49ers' ensuing snap. Williams also had two receptions for 16 yards, and he returned two punts for 24 yards. Ted Ginn Jr., the 49ers' would-be return specialist, has yet to play this season because of a right-ankle injury. Linebacker Patrick Willis and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga suffered fourth-quarter lower-leg injuries. Neither player required crutches as he left the locker room. Harbaugh declined to comment until further evaluation, although he typically won't discuss injuries in detail. Smith's first interception in 250 pass attempts came when he overthrew Crabtree on the 49ers' penultimate possession. Josh Robinson intercepted the pass at the Vikings' 32 with 2:18 remaining. Said Smith: "I threw it early. I threw it before he was looking, and he rolled in there. Obviously, I'd like to have it back." Former 49ers coach Mike Singletary declined any credit for giving the Vikings extra insight as their assistant head coach and linebackers coach. "More than anything else, I was just very, very pleased to see our guys respond to the challenge of playing San Francisco," Singletary said. "They are playing very well right now." Adrian Peterson's 86 yards on 25 carries were the highest output by a 49ers opponent since Marshawn Lynch tallied 107 yards on 21 carries Dec. 24 at Seattle. Frank Gore (12 carries, 63 yards) had only six carries in the 49ers' 37 snaps before halftime. Vikings receiver Percy Harvin caused fits for the 49ers throughout the game and finished with nine receptions for 89 yards. Willis and Carlos Rogers scooped up two Toby Gerhart fumbles in the fourth quarter, the Vikings' only turnovers. Manningham caught a season-high five passes for 56 yards, including a 22-yard reception. Crabtree had a team-high six receptions for 40 yards, and Vernon Davis had five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. As if the 49ers weren't feeling lowly enough after a fourth-quarter punt, the stadium's video board showcased its "play of the game": a third-down sack of Smith on the 49ers' opening series. "That's a mistake by Alex Smith," bellowed the video's accompanying audio throughout Mall of America Field. The 49ers were held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time this season. Still waiting to make their season debuts are Ginn, running backs Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James, nose tackle Ian Williams and guard Joe Looney. All were inactive, along with rookie wide receiver A.J. Jenkins and quarterback Scott Tolzien.