SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After playing every defensive snap in his first NFL regular-season game in exactly 10 months since tearing his right Achilles tendon, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman had one word to describe how he felt.
"I felt fine," Sherman said. "I feel fine. It’s a mental game just as much as it’s a physical game and the concepts they were running were relatively simple. I just put myself in a position to be successful. A lot of times I took my risks here and there where I had the opportunity to, but I think I played solid."
While San Francisco lost, Sherman's first game back with the Niners was a success, not only in the fact that he was able to play all 71 defensive snaps but he appeared to be quite effective in the limited times the Minnesota Vikings decided to test him.
Sunday was Day 304 between suffering the injury that ended his season prematurely last year as a Seahawk and his debut as a 49er, the team that was once one of his fiercest enemies.
Last week, Sherman acknowledged that he's always experienced a few butterflies and a tinge of excitement before the first game of the season -- as a rookie with Seattle and in each of his previous seven NFL seasons. This year was no different.
When the game started, though, Sherman didn't seem to have many difficulties taking on a full workload. On Minnesota's third offensive snap, Sherman got a good jam on Minnesota wideout Adam Thielen, knocked him off his route and Cousins threw elsewhere. Sherman settled in from there.
Sherman was targeted by Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins just three times. Of those three targets, Cousins completed just one, to wideout Stefon Diggs for a gain of 18 yards. With 6:52 left in the second quarter, Diggs created separation with a stop-go-stop move, but the play was made largely because of Cousins' ability to escape pressure and extend the play.
Cousins threw Sherman's way again about five-and-a-half minutes later, aiming for wideout Laquon Treadwell. Again, Sherman got physical at the line of scrimmage, then broke on the ball as it came toward Treadwell. As the ball arrived, Sherman created leverage with his left arm and reached around to knock the ball away with his right.
After the play, Sherman and Treadwell began jawing a bit, with Sherman appearing to shoo Treadwell back to the huddle.
On the third target, Cousins again went looking for Diggs, this time on a deep ball, something Sherman didn't get much of a look at in the preseason aside from some practice reps. With 8:41 left in the third quarter, Sherman jammed Diggs at the line and it was enough to force Diggs to come to a full stop a few yards into his route, re-direct inside of Sherman's leverage and take off running again.
While Diggs had a step on Sherman, the physical approach was enough to throw off the timing of the pass and Cousins' deep shot fell incomplete. Diggs, whom Sherman was complimentary of last week, said he enjoyed matching up with Sherman and saw no drop-off in his game.
“It’s always fun," Diggs said. "He’s definitely a great player, he’s had a great career and he continues to show you why he’s out there. I could definitely tell he’s the leader of that defense. They play good ball over there. It’s the first game for everybody, so everybody’s figuring out their identity. But definitely he’s been a great player and he still is. I love going against him.”
Sherman finished with a pair of tackles and also recovered a fumble forced by rookie linebacker Fred Warner. For the most part, the Vikings chose not to attack Sherman, largely because they clearly believed they had some favorable matchups with the likes of running back Dalvin Cook against Niners linebacker Brock Coyle and Thielen against Niners nickel corner K'Waun Williams.
Those matchups helped Cousins finish 20-of-36 for 244 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Still, the Niners had to be pleased with the work they did outside the numbers and on anything thrown down the field. Cousins was 1-of-5 for 22 yards (though the completion was a touchdown) on throws traveling 15 or more yards in the air and he was 7-of-17 for 116 yards with a touchdown on passes thrown outside the numbers.
All in all, it was a solid first outing for Sherman, according to coach Kyle Shanahan.
"I thought he did a real good job," Shanahan said. "I thought it was good for him just to get out there. Any time you're coming out after a big injury like he had last year, I know there's some anxiety and things like that. He was excited to get going and I think getting a game under his belt, just talking to him today, I think he felt good. I think he was really happy with it and I know I was from what I saw on tape."