Mike Hughes, welcome to the NFL.
With Mackensie Alexander (ankle) out and Trae Waynes (knee) injured during the first half, the Minnesota Vikings rookie first-round pick starred in Minnesota’s 24-16 win, intercepting Jimmy Garoppolo for a touchdown in the third quarter to turn the tide the Vikings’ way as they took a 17-3 lead. Receiver Kendrick Bourne fell down on his route, giving Hughes a clear path to the end zone — one play after tight end George Kittle dropped a deep pass by Garoppolo that might’ve gone the distance.
The Vikings led 24-6 at one point but had to survive an onslaught by the 49ers, who pulled to within eight points at 24-16 and got the ball back with a chance to tie with a two-minute drill, but Harrison Smith picked off Garoppolo for Minnesota’s fourth takeaway of the day.
Despite their very successful clock-killing drive late in the game, Minnesota’s offense sputtered late with three straight three and outs to allow the 49ers back in the game, but Kirk Cousins made excelled through three quarters, finishing 20 of 36 with 244 yards and two touchdowns. Both touchdown passes to Diggs and Rudolph were thrown in ultra-tight windows near a boundary.
Defensively, the Vikings bent plenty but didn’t break, holding the 49ers to 16 points despite Garoppolo’s 261 yards. Hughes, Smith and Xavier Rhodes all intercepted Garoppolo on poorly-thrown balls, and the defensive line sacked the new 49ers quarterback three times.
The Vikings led 10-3 at halftime but surely felt like it should have been more. Dalvin Cook fumbled after a gritty 15-yard run as the Vikings were driving in 49ers territory, and Minnesota stalled on a two-minute drill in San Francisco before the break that could have produced at least three points.
On the other hand, Minnesota’s defense prevented San Francisco from scoring any points on their lone red zone entry of the first half, stripping Alfred Morris at the 1-yard line after withstanding multiple defensive penalties and a handful of third-down conversions on the drive. In essence, the two fumbles canceled each other out, and the Vikings took a lead to the locker room.
Cousins found his rhythm as the game went on after a rocky first quarter, where it felt like he was constantly fleeing the pocket. His 22-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs ignited the new Vikings franchise quarterback as he finished the half with 165 yards and a touchdown.
His favorite target throughout? Cook.
The running back caught a pass in space on the game’s first play, a precursor of what was to come. With plenty of discussion over whether Cook would be limited in his full-time return, the former second-round pick caught six passes for 55 yards.