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San Francisco 49ers surprise with NaVorro Bowman, Carlos Hyde

By David Del Grande, The Sports Xchange
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San Francisco 49ers surprise with NaVorro Bowman, Carlos Hyde
San Francisco 49ers RB Carlos Hyde (28) styles across the goal line with a 17 yard TD against the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth quarter at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California on September 14, 2015. Hyde ran for 168 yards and two touchdowns in the 49ers 20-3 defeat of the Vikings. Photo by Bruce Gordon/UPI | License Photo

SANTA CLARA, CA. -- Some might say the primary story of the San Francisco 49ers' season-opening, 20-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night was the running back who rushed for 168 yards.

That would be 49ers' running back Carlos Hyde, who also scored two touchdowns.

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In fact, it was the guy who rushed for 31.

That would be the Vikings' former NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Adrian Peterson, making his return after being banished most of last year by the league. His return was stymied by 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman.

In a battle of star players who could wind up in the thick of the race for Player of the Year honors on their respective sides of the ball, Bowman, the 49ers inside linebacker, dominated Peterson in the nationally televised opener.

Teams might not fear the 49ers this season. They are, after all, projected to win fewer than half their games.

But after watching what transpired Monday, every game plan's every play will account for No. 53 in the middle of the 49ers' defense.

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"It's fun to be as active as I have to be out there during a football game," Bowman assured after playing a regular-season game for the first time since December of 2013. "That's what you live for as a linebacker."

For one game at least, everything clicked defensively. Bowman credited new defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, and in turn new head coach Jim Tomsula.

"We have a lot of variety in this defense," Bowman said of a unit that lost the star power of defensive end Justin Smith, inside linebacker Patrick Willis and outside linebacker Aldon Smith since last season. "No matter what our offense is doing, we have an answer for it."

For 29-plus minutes Monday night, the 49ers offense was doing next to nothing. Fortunately, the Bowman-led defense was doing everything.

Holding the Vikings scoreless in the first half and to just three points over 60 minutes allowed the offense to play conservatively, which in turn led to running back Carlos Hyde's huge rushing night.

But it couldn't have happened without the defense setting the game's tone early on.

"Guys were really up for this game," said Bowman, the 49ers' second-leading tackler with seven. "I'm sure Adrian will get a lot better throughout the season.

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"We started from the bottom and worked our way with a new coaching staff, new playbook and things like that, and had a lot of doubters. I think guys see that we're all business."

Hyde's 168 yards leads the NFL in rushing, although it is only after one weekend.

"A lot of it was Carlos making great cuts," 49ers guard Alex Boone noted when asked if the 49ers' new zone-blocking scheme deserved credit for Hyde's big night. "He runs so hard. A lot of people, I think, toward the end of that game realized he wasn't going to back down."

That Hyde outrushed Peterson made the new 49ers starter proud.

"That was also in the back of my head," Hyde admitted. "Outdoing a guy who's been leading the NFL in rushing, that's tremendous. Adrian Peterson's a great running back. Can't take anything away from him. I used to watch his highlights."

--Colin Kaepernick became the first quarterback in 49ers history to win each of his first three season openers. In doing so, Kaepernick became one of just four quarterbacks in NFL history to win his first five games on Monday Night Football.

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--Running back Reggie Bush suffered a calf injury. The veteran had an MRI on Tuesday, after which head coach Jim Tomsula reported, "He looks fine." Bush is unlikely to play in the 49ers' next game Sunday at Pittsburgh.

REPORT CARD VS. VIKINGS

PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Colin Kaepernick got credit for the win, his fifth straight on Monday Night Football. But truthfully, running back Carlos Hyde and the 49ers defense deserve most of the credit. That said, Kaepernick kept from making the key mistake that might have turned a close game in the Vikings' favor, hitting 17 of 26 for 165 yards without an interception. He also found time to be the game's second-leading rusher with 41 yards on seven carries.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A-plus -- The 49ers were afforded the luxury of playing conservatively on offense by a defense that was suffocating the Vikings, and they took full advantage. Led by Carlos Hyde, who churned out 168 yards in his first start, the 49ers recorded their most-ever rushing yards in a season opener (230). Hyde also scored both of the club's touchdowns on runs.

PASS DEFENSE: A-minus -- On most days, the effort of the pass defense would have warranted an "A." But even limiting Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater without a touchdown pass, intercepting him once and recording five sacks was dwarfed by what the rush defense accomplished against Minnesota star Adrian Peterson.

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RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus -- The 49ers were equally great at rushing as they were at stopping the run. Being that the latter occurred against Vikings star Adrian Peterson, it's the more surprising of the two. Peterson was held to 31 yards on 10 carries, and his teammates (40 yards on seven carries) weren't much better.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D-plus -- Ah, there's always room for improvement, even in what will go down as a near-perfect win. Newcomer Jarryd Hayne muffed a punt and Phil Dawson had a field goal blocked, giving the Vikings two opportunities to take command of the game early on. Fortunately, the 49ers defense made sure the miscues weren't costly. Rookie Bradley Pinion punted and kicked off flawlessly.

COACHING: A -- Almost every player had something good to say about Jim Tomsula in his NFL head-coaching debut. As a result, awarding him the game ball was a no-brainer. One game into the Tomsula era, the 49ers have an identity. They will focus on running and stopping the run. That can be boring, but there was little boring about the season-opening, 20-3 win.

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