It might not have been a game-time decision on which quarterback would start against San Francisco, but there was no question the right decision was made. After head coach Mike Tice saw Gus Frerotte go 30-for-34 in Wednesday’s practice (which Tice said included two drops), it was enough to convince Tice to strongly consider the backup as the starter.
Sunday against the 49ers, Frerotte opened the party early and kept the tunes — and touchdown passes — flying all throughout the first half.
Frerotte invited many of his newfound friends in purple. The Vikings had six players carry the ball in the first half — Moe Williams, John Avery, Doug Chapman, Jim Kleinsasser, Onterrio Smith and Kelly Campbell — and Frerotte’s aerial attack saw two touchdowns to Randy Moss and one to Nate Burleson.
But Frerotte wasn’t the only man in purple enjoying the first-half party with 188 passing yards. The defense also left San Francisco in the fog, with interceptions by Brian Williams, Corey Chavous and Brian Russell.
By the time the first half ended, the Vikings held a 28-0 lead that they turned into a 35-7 win that could convince much of the country that this team is for real.
"It was the best team victory to this point," Tice said. "They (the 49ers) were determined not to give us the run. We felt all week we matched up well on the outside."
They did. Moss easily won the battle against San Francisco’s defensive backs and the statistics battle against 49ers receiver Terrell Owens. Moss ended 172 yards receiving — his third-best professional output — and three touchdowns. It was no coincidence that Frerotte ended with a 157.2 QB rating, the best in franchise history.
Frerotte made it all look too easy too early. Williams got the action started with three rushes for 13 yards, but a 22-yard pass to Moss started a big game for the big receiver. Kleinsasser put them in the red zone with a 17-yard reception and, after a 3-yard pass to Williams, Frerotte went high to Moss in the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown to open the scoring with 9:53 left in the first quarter.
The defense followed by allowing the 49ers to midfield, but on the fifth play Chavous came up with his fourth interception in as many games.
The Minnesota offense marched right back down the field. After an incompletion to start the drive, the Vikings turned to the ground game to prove they could do it there against one of the NFL’s early leaders in rushing defense. They did it with a stable of backs, with rushes of 6 yards from Smith, 4 from Williams, 11 from Smith, 6 from Williams, 2 from Chapman and 4 from Williams before Smith piled in from 5 yards out for a 14-0 lead with 2:46 left in the first quarter.
The 49ers answered with a 24-yard rush from Kevan Barlow on the second play of their ensuing drive, but once at midfield, two incompletions to Terrell Owens ended the drive.
The Vikings experienced their first and only three-and-out — in fact their only punt of the first half — but a third-down sack by Lance Johnstone and Chris Hovan ended the 49ers’ next drive.
This time, the offense returned to its early success. Moss started with a 6-yard reception, turned into a first down with rushes from Kleinsasser and Williams. Burleson and Smith combined to move the chains again, and a 15-yard pass to Moss advanced the ball to the San Fran 46-yard line. Campbell and Smith picked up the next first down, and facing first-and-10 from the 35-yard line, Frerotte went for the first-half trifecta and got it with the bomb to Moss, making it 21-0.
Brian Williams intercepted Garcia to end San Francisco’s next drive — which effectively started the carnage on Minnesota’s next drive.
This time the passing game was the mainstay. Frerotte opened with a 24-yard pass to Burleson, and Williams picked up the next first down with a 13-yard reception. Moss was flagged for offensive pass interference in the end zone on the next play, but after a 7-yard completion to Campbell, Frerotte found Burleson at the goal line for a 22-yard touchdown with 56 seconds left in the half and a 28-0 lead.
After an 8-yard sack by Johnstone, Brian Russell and Eric Kelly nearly added an interception return and lateral for a touchdown to close the half, but Kelly was eventually brought down after a 40-yard run on the lateral from Russell.
With a 28-point lead, the 49ers continued to struggle on offense until quarterback Jeff Garcia was pulled in the fourth quarter. But before backup Tim Rattay could engineer a meaningless drive, Frerotte and the first-team offense had one more strike in their arsenal.
It came on their second drive of the third quarter. It featured — who else — Moss. After an 11-yard pass to Moss, San Fran’s John Engelberger brought down Frerotte for an 11-yard sack. So Frerotte went back to Moss for 9 yards and, facing third-and-12, he found Moss for a 59-yard touchdown and a 35-0 lead.
The teams exchanged punts before Rattay moved the 49ers downfield and found Tai Streets for a 37-yard touchdown in tight coverage with 7:37 to play, keeping the Vikings from their first shutout since 1993.
It wouldn’t matter, as the Vikings move to 4-0 for the first time in Mike Tice’s tenure as head coach and travel to Atlanta in the attempt to make it 5-0 before their bye.