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4 winners and 2 losers from the 49ers win over the Steelers: Hello, Drake Jackson

Drake Jackson matched his sack total from 2022. But the entire defense looked dominant on Sunday

Los Angeles Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

It almost felt too easy.

After three years of uncomfortable Week 1 performances, the San Francisco 49ers decimated the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road with a 31-7 win. The game was in hand on the 49ers’ second drive where they went up 10-0 with 4:38 left in the first quarter, as Pittsburgh could only score a lonely touchdown against the 49ers’ stout defense.

Brock Purdy looked confident leading the 49ers offense, completing 19-of-29 passes for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with Christian McCaffrey leading the way on the ground with 22 carries for 152 yards and a 65-yard touchdown.

Purdy’s favorite target on Sunday starts the list of five winners and two losers:

Winner: Brandon Aiyuk

It was a star-making performance from the 49ers receiver on Sunday.

Aiyuk finished with a career-high 129 yards - accounting for 59 percent of the 49ers passing yards - with eight receptions on eight targets and a pair of touchdowns. He gave Patrick Peterson fits all day, including his first touchdown of the game when Aiyuk broke down Peterson with an inside move to free more than enough space in the back of the end zone.

His second touchdown might have been the play of the game offense. Purdy found Aiyuk in the front corner of the end zone with a perfectly placed ball that Aiyuk had to fight off Peterson and keep both feet in bounds to reel the ball in.

Not only did Aiyuk impact the passing game but also the running game. Aiyuk threw a big block on Damontae Kazee to open up plenty of space for Christian McCaffrey on his 65-yard touchdown gallop.

Winner: 49ers defense

The 49ers defense forced five consecutive three-and-outs to open the game. The Steelers' offense had just one total offensive yard halfway through the second quarter. It took until the 1:16 mark in the second quarter to record its first first down. The Steelers' offense had just 77 first-half total yards, finishing with 239 total yards after it felt like the 49ers defense played more relaxed coverage as Pittsburgh faced a 20-point deficit with their opening drive of the second half.

It was a dominating debut for Steve Wilks’ version of the 49ers defense.

Winner: Drake Jackson

Nick Bosa had all the headlines during the week, but Jackson is the one who earned the headlines on Sunday. The second-year pass rusher matched his rookie year total with a trio of sacks of Kenny Pickett. Jackson set the tone early with a third-down sack on the Steelers opening drive of the game.

The second of Jackson’s sacks also came on a third down, with both third down sacks preceding a 49ers scoring drive. With plenty of standouts on the defense, Jackson easily stood out the most.

Winner: Innovative ideas but also loser: execution of innovative ideas

Talanoa Hufanga recorded his first interception of the 2023 campaign off a pass deflection from Fred Warner early in the fourth quarter. The safety gained 30 yards on the return, but before Spencer Anderson could bring down Hufanga, he attempted a lateral to the trailing Tashaun Gipson, who took the pitch down to the Pittsburgh 10-yard-line. While the lateral gained an extra 25 yards, it was all for naught as it was an illegal forward pass, costing the 49ers about 40 yards of field position.

Loser: Colton McKivitz

McKivitz was the only red mark on a 49ers offense that impressed. Purdy was sacked only thrice, but all three sacks came from the right side of the offense as McKivitz fell victim to a trio of T.J. Watt sacks. It wasn’t an easy matchup for McKivitz, who started his first career game at right tackle on Sunday, but there was plenty to be desired from the fourth-year offensive lineman.

The poor performance was only a blip on the 49ers’ radar, but McKivitz will continue to play under a microscope.

Loser: Penalties

Maybe the 49ers biggest preseason problem reared its ugly head on Sunday.

After being called for 22 preseason penalties, the 49ers followed up with 85 yards lost on 11 penalties. Spencer Burford was called for three of his own, with the offensive line as a whole called for five total. Deommodore Lenoir was called for two on Pittsburgh’s scoring drive, an unnecessary roughness and an illegal contact on a third down that would have forced a fourth down.

Just like with McKitvitz, it’ll get swept under a rug because of the lopsided score, but the penalties have been an issue early for the 49ers.