The players on the 49ers sideline looked at the scoreboard in disbelief. Faces appeared to be in complete shock as if they couldn't believe what they were seeing.
Beaming back at them was the remarkable image of Vikings wide receiver Greg Lewis amazingly getting both feet in the back of the end zone while catching a 32-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre.
The replay was a painful reminder of Minnesota's final touchdown with two seconds remaining on the clock that allowed them to pull out a miraculous 27-24 victory at the Metrodome.
The 49ers (2-1) had all but assured themselves their third win of the season had they found a way to stop Favre and the Vikings (3-0) final drive. But 59-plus minutes of hard work was not enough to get the job done.
The 49ers were defeated for the first time of the year by Favre's 42nd career game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. The quarterback who provided the 49ers with several heartbreaking defeats as a member of the Green Bay Packers finished the game 24-of-46 for 301 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Along with the statistical production, Favre proved he still has late game heroics in his system.
"If we have to lose one like this we'll learn from this and it's just going to make us stronger," head coach Mike Singletary said.
Favre's last second play will remain etched in the minds of the 49ers players and coaches, but so too will be the offense's lack of production on third downs.
The 49ers led multiple times in Sunday's see-saw battle, despite failing to pick up a first down on 11 attempts. They did however convert a fourth-down on their second-quarter touchdown drive.
But the last failed third down proved to be the most significant.
With the 49ers leading 24-20 with 1:41 on the clock, rookie running back Glen Coffee was stopped for a 2-yard gain on a third-and-six from Minnesota's 49-yard line. Had Coffee converted the first down, the 49ers would have been able to seal the victory as the Vikings were out of timeouts.
Instead of lining up in the "Victory" formation, the 49ers punted the ball back to Favre and the Vikings. From there, the 19-year veteran used all but two seconds of the 1:39 on the clock to drive Minnesota 80 yards for the game-winning score.
"It's tough," linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "But at the end of the day we have to realize it's not that we're going to be a good football team. It's that we are a good football team. It's all about how you respond to adversity."
The 49ers responded to serious hardship after the first offensive play of the game.
The very first play from scrimmage saw running back Frank Gore carry for a 4-yard gain and aggravate his right ankle injury in the process. It would be Gore's only carry of the day. From there, Coffee stepped in and carried the ball 25 times for 54 yards.
Without the 49ers star runner carrying the load, the Adrian Peterson-Frank Gore hype that consumed the week leading up to the game quickly faded. Peterson had a better outing against the 49ers than his first encounter as a rookie, this time rushing for 85 yards on 19 carries. Other than a 35-yard run in the first quarter, the 49ers defense kept the Pro Bowl rusher in check.
With Peterson in check and Gore in street clothes, neither team scored on the ground. Instead, the scoring plays came from the air and on special teams.
The 49ers scored two of their three touchdowns in the passing game with both catches coming from tight end Vernon Davis.
Davis' touchdown grabs of 5 and 20 yards capped a career-day. He finished the game tying a career high with seven catches for a career-best 96 yards. It was also Davis' first multi-touchdown game of his four-year NFL career.
"Vernon is just a guy who continues to work his tail off and lead this team," Singletary said of the performance he got out of tight end. "He did some things today that were big and I'm excited about his continued growth."
The 49ers other touchdown was supplied from their special teams unit. It came at an unlikely moment of the game to some, but not to the players on the 49ers field goal block team.
With the Vikings looking to attempt a 44-yard field goal, defensive tackle Ray McDonald busted through the middle of the line and easily blocked Ryan Longwell's attempt. Cornerback Nate Clements was right there to scoop up the ball and run it back 59 yards to put the 49ers up 14-13 to close out the first the half.
"Every time we line up we feel like we should block a kick," McDonald said of his second-career field goal block. "When we line up that's what we intend to do. No kick is a routine kick to us."
The 49ers added to their lead with a field goal in the middle of the third quarter to go up 17-13, but gave the lead right back on the ensuing play. The Vikings responded with some of their own points created from special teams when rookie Percy Harvin returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown.
Despite the setback, the 49ers were able to put together a response in the form of a 6-play, 80-yard, fourth-quarter scoring drive. Hill completed all four of his passes on the drive for 89 yards. His last pass of 20 yards sailed beautifully over the coverage of Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson into the arms of Davis who was open in the end zone. Hill finished the game 15-of-25 for 195 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
And while the 49ers played valiantly for three and a half quarters, the lack of production on third down continued to rear its ugly head down the stretch. Twice with a 24-20 lead the 49ers offense was unable to convert on third down. Twice the 49ers defense provided stops that got the ball back to the offense in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers just needed one last stop or one first down, and neither came.
"It's a tough loss, but a team that lost this game particularly like that will be better for it," Singletary added. "It will sting and hurt, but going forward this will serve us well. We have to learn how to finish we have to learn how to play in big games. That's the bottom line."
The players feel the same way.
"I know nothing else but to keep on grinding and come in every day ready to work," quarterback Shaun Hill said. "I feel like the whole locker room feels that way."