MINNEAPOLIS — Kirk Cousins gave the Minnesota Vikings exactly what they needed for a victorious debut by their new quarterback.
The throws Cousins made in tight coverage at important times were on target. And unlike Jimmy Garoppolo, he kept the ball out of the other team’s hands.
Cousins passed for two touchdowns and the Vikings forced four turnovers, fueling a 24-16 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday that stuck Garoppolo with his first loss in eight games as an NFL starting quarterback.
Cousins connected with Stefon Diggs in the second quarter and Kyle Rudolph in the third quarter for scores, and the defense finished the job with three sacks and three second-half interceptions of Garoppolo. Mike Hughes turned one pick into a 28-yard touchdown return, the first by a rookie in a Vikings season opener.
Harrison Smith sealed the game with an interception with 1:35 left. He also recovered a fumble by Alfred Morris at the 2-yard line after Linval Joseph stripped the ball just in front of the goal line in the late in the first half and sacked Garoppolo on a third-down safety blitz late in the fourth quarter.
“It was pretty smooth sailing there for a while,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, “and it was good to find the fight and the heart that we had there at the end.”
Garoppolo finished 15 for 33 for 261 yards and a touchdown pass to rookie Dante Pettis late in the third quarter.
With an injury depleted offensive line in front of him and the absence of top wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, Garoppolo was unable to capitalize on the opportunity for a comeback after the 49ers defense forced three straight three-and-outs by the Vikings to start the fourth quarter. DeForest Buckner had 2½ sacks for San Francisco.
“We knew it was going to be a tough challenge with the environment, going against a tough team,” Garoppolo said. “They stood up to everything we thought they would, but with all the things that went bad we still had a shot at the end there. Just a tough way to end it.”
Cousins went 20 for 36 for 244 yards, targeting Adam Thielen 12 times. Thielen caught six passes for 102 yards.
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook caught six passes for 55 yards. He said Cousins was “locked in” from the start.
“I like to see a guy next to me with that look in his eyes,” Cook said.
Tight end George Kittle had five catches for 90 yards, but the one he didn’t make for the 49ers stood out. Wide open after beating Anthony Barr up the seam, Kittle had what would’ve been a 30-yard completion fall off his fingers at midfield. The third-down interception by Hughes came next to give the Vikings a 17-3 lead.
“Misjudged it,” Kittle said. “Thought it was a little closer to me. Probably ran a bit too far with my arms out. Just a bad play.”
INJURY REPORT: Vikings CB Trae Waynes hurt his right knee while ripping a deep pass away from Pettis in the end zone in the second quarter and didn’t return. With Mackensie Alexander (ankle) inactive and Terence Newman retired, the Vikings had SS Jayron Kearse in slot coverage in the nickel defense with Hughes on the outside for Waynes.