1. Cousins says prayer is a 'big part' of his durability
Sunday's 34-26 loss to the 49ers at Levi's Stadium was Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins' 115th start (56-57-2) out of 116 regular-season games since becoming a starter in Washington in 2015. He's 30-27-1 as a Viking and was 26-30-1 with Washington. The only game he missed came in Week 17 of the 2019 season when Vikings coach Mike Zimmer rested his starters. If Cousins hadn't missed that game, he would be the active leader in consecutive starts among NFL quarterbacks. Tom Brady leads the way with 87. Cousins was asked in an interview with the Star Tribune last week if pure luck was behind his incredible durability. "I think praying helps," he said. "I pray, and I think the Lord's protection has been a big part of it. I've got a lot of people praying for me throughout my career. I've also had great teammates keep me upright, and coaches have been smart about protecting me." Cousins was sacked once Sunday. He's been sacked 15 times, a low through 11 games as a Viking and the second fewest in his career during that stretch behind 2016 (14).
2. Smith pick adds to first-drive excellence
The Vikings defense can't seem to stop anybody at the end of the first half, but it's doing quite well at the start of games. A week earlier against Jacksonville, the 49ers opened with a scoring drive that consumed 13 minutes, 5 seconds, the NFL's longest since 1997. Sunday was a different story. After the Vikings went three-and-out, the 49ers ran six plays, netting nine yards in 2:10, before Jimmy Garoppolo was intercepted by safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings have yet to trail after each team has had one possession. They've been tied six times and led five times. The Vikings are outscoring opponents 44-16 on first drives. Opponents also have punted three times, thrown two interceptions and turned the ball over on downs.
3. 49ers surging as a true smashmouth team
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer would love to be in Kyle Shanahan's shoes right about now. The 49ers coach is riding a three-game winning streak with a run-pass differential of 125-67. Wow. That's smashmouth football. With the Vikings down four defensive line starters, Sunday was a layup for the 49ers' brutes up front, including Tom Compton, a former failed Vikings guard starting at right tackle in place of the injured Jaylon Moore. The 49ers ran for 208 yards on 39 carries (5.3) and three touchdowns while possessing the ball for 37 minutes, 7 seconds. In the past three games, they've run for 535 yards while dominating time of possession 114:32-65:38. That's how you get wins for Garoppolo. Meanwhile, the Vikings ran for 67 yards, including one run for 30.
4. Why was Cousins so mad at the end of the first half?
What the heck happened at the end of the first half? No, not defensively, offensively. After the 49ers scored to make it a 14-14 game, they kicked off to the 10-yard line. Kene Nwangwu, who's becoming the NFL's best kick returner, took it 30 yards to the Vikings' 40 with 12 seconds left. From there, the Vikings moved like they had 12 minutes left. Cousins wasn't happy. He threw a short pass to Dalvin Cook, who went 14 yards and got out of bounds. Then, with five seconds left, the Vikings chose not to have Greg Joseph attempt a 64-yard field goal or Cousins try a Hail Mary pass. Instead, Cousins dropped back and basically threw the ball away down the left sideline. Afterwards, an angry Cousins ran to quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko to give him an earful. Of what, we'll never know. Cousins sidestepped a couple questions about what made him so angry. "We just weren't able to get into field-goal range," he said. "I was just disappointed we didn't get points there."
5. Thielen disappears in second half
Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson each were targeted five times in the first half. It was a shining example of how they can feed off each other. When Jefferson wasn't catching two passes for 45 yards, he was drawing attention away from Thielen. Thielen caught all five targets for 62 yards and two touchdowns. On his second touchdown, three defenders went to Jefferson on a short route, leaving Thielen open in the end zone. "I was just trying to get the ball," Jefferson said. "But watching film and seeing how their coverages look," he continued, he knew Thielen was going to get opportunities. Thielen made a great adjustment on the ball for a 20-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead. In the second half, Thielen was targeted twice with no catches while Jefferson caught two of his four targets for 38 yards and drew a pass interference penalty on third down.