MINNEAPOLIS -- While most of the disappointment in the 49ers’ locker room Sunday stemmed from the team’s offensive struggles, coach Kyle Shanahan believed his team’s defense generally played well enough to win.
The 49ers opened the season with a 24-16 loss to the Vikings in which the defense got off to an encouraging start.
“I thought our pass rush was good,” Shanahan said. “We held them to 17 points [on offense]. Holding that team to 17 points, I thought that would be good enough for us to win.
“I thought we could have tackled a little bit better, from what I saw, but I thought they played good enough to win.”
The Vikings outgained the 49ers 343 yards to 327. Minnesota ran 10 more plays from scrimmage than the 49ers, who had 20 first downs to the Vikings’ 19.
“I think we played all right,” said 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, who recorded 2½ of the 49ers’ three sacks of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“We have to clean up a lot of stuff on defense, especially tackle. We had a lot of missed tackles. We just have to stay more disciplined.”
Rookie linebacker Fred Warner had a strong NFL debut, checking in with a team-high 12 tackles and one forced fumble.
“Middle linebacker is one of the toughest positions to come in as a rookie and play and be effective,” 49ers veteran cornerback Richard Sherman said. “I think he did an admirable job.”
Warner certainly appears to be capable of becoming a fixture in the 49ers’ defense for a long time. The 49ers have yet to see veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith, who signed a contract on the first day of free agency in 2017 and still hasn't stepped onto the field for a regular-season game.
Smith was inactive Sunday with a hamstring injury after missing all of last season with a torn pectoral. Smith's replacement, Brock Coyle, was diagnosed with a concussion. Coyle now must pass through the NFL's return-to-play protocol in order to be eligible to play next week against the Lions. Reuben Foster is serving a two-game suspension and isn't eligible to return until the Week 3 game at the Kansas City Chiefs.
Sunday's game featured the return of Sherman, whose final season with the Seahawks ended in early November because of an Achilles tear.
“I felt fine,” Sherman said. “It’s a mental game just as much as it’s a physical game, and the concepts they were running were relatively simple. I put myself in position to be successful. I took my risks here and there where I had the opportunity to figure the plays out.”
Cousins completed 20 of 36 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Most of his big plays appeared to come on busted coverage, where the 49ers' secondary left Vikings receivers all alone. Cousins delivered his TD passes to Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph before 49ers defenders Ahkello Witherspoon and Jaquiski Tartt could turn to look for the ball.
“Of course you want guys to look back and make that play,” Shanahan said. “I definitely think there were some we could have, but when you get beat off the line early in a play, then those are the ones you can’t.”