It wasn’t pretty, but the San Francisco 49ers remain undefeated. The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Levi’s Stadium for the 49ers’ 2019 home-opener on Sunday, a game in which San Francisco quickly became their own worst enemy. In spite of an onslaught of mistakes, Kyle Shanahan’s team was able to outlast the Steelers, kneeling out the clock to go 3-0 for the first time since 1998.
Here are our five takeaways from the 49ers’ 24-20 victory:
The 49ers offense turned the ball over five times against the Steelers. That’s two more than their previous two games combined. Two passes from Jimmy Garoppolo hit the hands of his intended targets, running back Matt Breida and receiver Dante Pettis, but both were knocked into the air and caught by Steelers defenders. Running back Raheem Mostert, wideout Richie James and Garoppolo all put the ball on the ground, as well. In a game where the 49ers offense out-gained the Steelers 436 yards to 239, costly turnovers were the only thing keeping San Francisco from another convincing win.
Garoppolo the gritty
Those that didn’t watch the game and are checking the box score on Monday morning will assume Garoppolo had a bad game. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The 49ers quarterback completed 23 of 32 passes (71.9%) for 277 yards and the game-winning touchdown with 1:20 left on the clock. Garoppolo’s two interceptions should’ve been caught. He took eight confirmed hits and was sacked once throughout the game, but Garoppolo held strong in the pocket, showed good maneuverability and completing some impressive throws under pressure.
The defense is real
The 49ers could’ve (and perhaps should’ve) lost on Sunday had it not been for an impressive effort from the defense. Despite five offensive turnovers, Robert Saleh’s squad held the Steelers to just six points through the first half. They allowed a pair of big touchdown completions in the second half, but that didn’t take away from what was overall an impressive effort. The defense generated two sacks, four tackles for loss, four pass breakups, one interception, and one forced fumble.
Redemption for Pettis
Pettis has been taking it in the chin since training camp. The second-year wideout had an up-and-down offseason and has been unable to establish himself as the go-to target many thought Pettis would become in 2019. He took a step forward on Sunday. Pettis made his first start of the season over rookie Deebo Samuel but got off to a rough start with a tipped pass-turned-interception. All is well that ends well for Pettis though, who caught the game-winning pass from Garoppolo with a little over a minute remaining. It was an impressive play that saw Pettis step back into traffic to secure the ball at the goal line and dart forward for the score. You could see the emotion in Pettis’ celebration.
49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk offered what were perhaps the two most exciting highlights of the game in his three-catch, 51-yard performance. The first was on a deep pass from Garoppolo that saw Juszczyk diving forward to make the grab just as the free safety broke on the ball. The second was after the catch when which Juszczyk broke a tackle, simultaneously stiff-arming and tossing defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick to the ground with one arm - sending the 49ers sideline into a frenzy. “Juice,” said after the game that his physicality on that play was a nod to tight end George Kittle, who authored a similar play last week against the Bengals.
We spoke with Juszczyk after the game, and I asked him how it felt to impose his will on the Steelers defender: