The San Francisco 49ers kicked off the 2019 season with a victory. The team headed East on Sunday to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, setting the stage for a sloppy yet exciting 31-17 win. It was a step in the right direction for a regime that has high expectations for coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch as they enter into Year 3 at the helm.
Here are our five takeaways from the 49ers’ debut win over the Bucs:
Defense steps up in a big way
The 49ers defense totaled two interceptions all season last year. They already eclipsed that mark after one game in 2019. Cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon both intercepted Jameis Winston for defensive touchdowns while linebacker Mark Nzeocha reeled in a tipped pick off the hands of tight end O.J. Howard. The pass rush showed up as well, with defensive lineman Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead earning a sack. It wasn’t a perfect performance, particularly in regards to stopping the run, but it was an encouraging step forward for Robert Saleh’s defense.
Inconsistent return for Jimmy G
Sunday was Jimmy Garoppolo’s first regular-season action since tearing his ACL against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 of the 2018 season. It was an up-and-down performance for the 49ers’ franchise quarterback, who completed 18 of 27 passes (66%) for 166 yards, one touchdown, and a pick-six. Garoppolo missed Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves stalking an out route to the far side of the field, who easily stepped in front of the pass intended for Tevin Coleman. He missed a handful of other easy throws as Garoppolo knocked off the rust after a lengthy absence.
Penalties still a problem
The team’s preseason penalty problem carried over to the regular season. The 49ers finished the game with 11 penalties for 87 yards, three of which erased would-be touchdowns. Two of the scores were intended for tight end George Kittle, an offensive pass interference call on fullback Kyle Juszczyk erased one, and an illegal formation on tackle Mike McGlinchey negated the other. Sherman also drew two flags while covering Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans. The most damaging penalty of the afternoon was unsportsmanlike conduct in the first quarter on a helmet-to-helmet hit on a sliding Winston.
Alexander’s reunion short-lived
Former Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander was responsible for the hit on Winston. Following a brief scuffle after the play, Alexander was disqualified from the game per the new rules regarding contact to the head of an opposing player. The former Buccaneers linebacker was active on the field during his one quarter, totaling three tackles that included an impressive hit on running back Ronald Jones. He also dropped an interception that looked like it would’ve been returned for a pick-six. Alexander watched the remainder of the game from the locker room but was still awarded a game ball afterward by the 49ers.
Backfield already thinning
For the second-straight year, the 49ers are without their prized running back Jerick McKinnon as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered before the 2018 season. In addition to McKinnon, Tevin Coleman sustained an ankle injury on Sunday at the start of the second half that could result in missed games. Matt Breida briefly left the field early on and was evaluated in the medical tent for dehydration, but returned shortly after. Raheem Mostert remains a reliable option while Jeff Wilson Jr. could be promoted from the practice squad for the second consecutive season.