Programming note: Jim Tomsula will address the media today at 11:30am. Watch the LIVE STREAM right here.
SANTA CLARA -- Jim Tomsula’s first game as first game as official, no-kidding, non-interim head coach of the San Francisco 49ers revealed one thing more important than all others, namely:
Carlos Hyde is going to make Jim Tomsula’s job as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers pretty damned easy.
In a occasionally turgid but largely workmanlike 20-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in which few players distinguished themselves, Hyde stole nearly the entire threadbare show, scoring both touchdowns and gaining a weekend-best 168 yards on 26 carries (a cool 6.7 yards per run) as the centerpiece of the new-era 49ers.
And just as Frank Gore at his best simplified the demands of the rest of his offense, Hyde seems prepped to do that as well. Of his 26 carries, 18 were for four yards or more, and six were for 10 or more. Whatever the Viking defense was doing, it wasn’t doing it to Hyde.
And because Hyde was running rampant, there was much less stress on quarterback Colin Kaepernick to exceed his mandate. His numbers (17 of 26 for 165) were modest, but he was not asked to cheat gravity.
Indeed, the only egregious mistake that truly hurt the 49ers was a muffed punt by the walking story angle Jarryd Hayne. Minnesota, which seemed to be playing as though it still didn’t have Adrian Peterson on the roster, didn’t score, and indeed spent almost no time threatening to do so. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who apparently was supposed to save the Vikings since Peterson couldn’t, was sacked five times for 54 yards, or nearly one-third of the yards he threw for, and the 49er defense was either simply untroubled or subtly masterful.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Hyde powers 49ers past Vikings to open 2015]
As a result, the game had little enough effervescence. The Vikings, one of those dreaded trendy picks for big things, revealed nothing to suggest that those expectations were justified, and the 49ers seemed as conservative offensively as they were during the harshest critiques of the Harbaugh era.
But the funny thing about conservatism is that it doesn’t look so buttoned-down when there is one running back consistently backing up the opposition defense, and Hyde was every bit of that. Indeed, it seems likely that this is the offense the 49ers want to run, given that it was the one they largely ran successfully in the glory days (years 1 through 3 of Harbaughiana) and the one general manager Trent Baalke all but ordered Tomsula to run during the still-painfully-referenced first presser.
Thus, the off-brand flavor was provided, as it has been much of the preseason, by Hayne, who was cleared to be one of the 46 and even got five touches with the offense after Reggie Bush pulled a calf muscle. This led to the unexpected highlight of Australian journalist Matt Clearly, live-blogging the game for The Guardian from Sydney. Cleary, a well-sharpened nail who has been following the Hayne story back home, struck a series of lively items to brighten the event for a punch-drunk nation up far too late for its own good, to wit:
“Niners, now, to Mr. Reliable, Carlos Hyde who bashes his way across the line of scrimmage and pseudo fighting and runs into his own bloke and keeps going. And he does it again, and that’s first down. He’s Jarryd Hayne’s room-mate. So there is that link for the island continent of Australia. Kaepernick now, flings it out of the field. Nothing on. He just hoicked it out. He’s 2nd and 10. And Carlos Hyde is hammered. Belted. Thanks mate. Boom. Top pass, Kaepernick.”
“Who else but King Carlos Hyde he takes a short ball from his Quarterback Kaepernick and the seas of Babylon opened up because all the blocking men did their job and a top runner like Carlos was always going to run through that sort of hole. Touchdown, 49ers. Fabulous Phil Dawson knocks over the extra digit and it’s Niners 17 leading Vikings 3. Top stuff from Carlos Hyde, who leapt into the people after scoring that touchdown, bit like old mate did in that “show me the money” movie. Cuba Gooding Jnr, after he was knocked out.”
Then again, Clearly also described Hayne as “hot-pronking like a hairy goat on fire,” so we are not talking about an ordinary talent here. Or even fully comprehensible to a hardened football fan who would never ever refer to the end zone as “the honeypot.”
But there was some honeypotting to be done, and Carlos Hyde was the person for it. He reminded the audience of Gore’s best days, and the 20-point effort was very much the standard 49er production level. In time, the fact that they allowed a mere three will dawn on people as well, especially if the defense can do as well against Pittsburgh, Arizona and Green Bay the next three weeks.
This, though, was Carlos Hyde’s night, ringing down the old echoes for a team that has lived on its defense and ground game for years now. And did so again Monday night.