The San Francisco 49ers, in a season ravaged by injuries, have leaned on young and inexperienced players to find success late in the season. Among those playing a significant role is rookie receiver Dante Pettis.
The 49ers’ second-round pick in this year’s draft has taken on a prominent role in Kyle Shanahan’s offense over his past five games, including Sunday’s overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks. After the game, Pettis spoke with the media about his upward trajectory over the course of 2018.
“I’m out here and I feel like I’m playing the football that I know how to play,” Pettis said. “I don’t know if that’s ‘being in a groove’ or whatever. It’s just like me finally being able to play how I want and play free and not have to worry about the game.”
Pettis has been the 49ers’ top receiver over the past six weeks, forced into the spotlight by notable injuries and absences. Veteran Pierre Garçon missed six of the last seven games with a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve before the 49ers’ Week 15 matchup. Marquise Goodwin was excused in Weeks 12 and 13 to deal with a personal matter. Pettis has thrived in their absence.
In five games, Pettis has garnered 32 targets for 21 catches, 350 yards and four touchdowns. He’s displayed the crafty route running and separation ability that the 49ers coveted when they surrendered a third-round pick to trade up in the second round for the former Washington receiver.
Second only to tight end George Kittle, Pettis has been one of quarterback Nick Mullens’ go-to pass catchers since the former third-string quarterback made his Week 9 debut against the Oakland Raiders. The pair connected on a crucial fourth-quarter completion that set up a go-ahead field goal on Sunday against the Seahawks, giving the 49ers the 23 points that would eventually send the game into overtime.
“It’s a play we like against man coverage,” Mullens said. “As long as I held the safety then I liked Dante on the matchup. He did a great job of giving me space to throw it and made a great catch with a wet ball.”
In a short span, Pettis has shown the ability to consistently win against man coverage, earning the confidence of both Mullens and Shanahan. Pettis was quick to compliment Mullens on the perfectly placed 30-yard pass to open up the game’s final quarter of regulation on Sunday.
“That was a dime,” Pettis said. “It dropped in right past the defender. I was just happy that I held on to it. It was a great throw.”
Sunday’s victory over the Seahawks marked the 49ers’ first win streak of the season after the team’s Week 14 win over the Denver Broncos. Pettis was unaware of just how long the Seahawks had dominated the 49ers. He was thankful for not only ending the 10-game streak, but for the 49ers finally closing the door on a quality opponent after several close calls throughout the season.
“It’s good,” Pettis said on the gravity of Sunday’s win. “We’ve been right there so many times. To finally grind one out against a team like that, it means a lot.”