The San Francisco 49ers improved to 3-0 for the first time since 1998 with their 24-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in their home opener Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. Here are our grades.
Passing offense: B-
The 49ers could move the ball in the first half, they just couldn’t hold on to it, turning the ball over four times before hitting the locker room down 6-3, after quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo averaged 8.7 yards per attempt. Rookie Deebo Samuel dropped a catchable deep throw early in the third quarter on a drive that wound up being San Francisco’s first three-and-out of the season. But Samuel made up for it during a pivotal touchdown drive on the next series when the 49ers took the lead with a pair of catches. Rookie Justin Skule, filling in for Joe Staley, was called for three penalties in the second half — two holding and a blind-side block. Garoppolo threw the go-ahead touchdown to Dante Pettis from 5 yards out with 1:15 remaining. Garoppolo finished with 277 yards, a touchdown, two interceptions and an 82.4 rating.
Rushing offense: C+
Raheem Mostert had two first-half fumbles (though Garoppolo was charged with a fumble when Mostert dropped a pitch leading to an 18-yard loss). Richie James inadvertently ran into a shotgun snap on a pivotal third-and-goal, giving the ball back to the Steelers. The 49ers had 169 yards on 39 carries, with Jeff Wilson Jr. scoring two touchdowns for the second straight week. Mostert finished with 79 yards and Matt Breida added 68. The grade accounts for all the turnovers, not the bountiful yardage production.
Passing defense: B
The 49ers were able to pressure Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph even if didn’t lead to big sack numbers. K’Waun Williams registered the team’s fifth interception of the season on Pittsburgh’s first drive of the third quarter, which led to the 49ers’ go-ahead touchdown from Jeff Wilson Jr., making it 10-6. Rudolph was struggling to complete passes downfield until he hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 76-yard score midway through the third quarter to give Pittsburgh the lead. The Steelers re-took the lead early in the third quarter with consecutive targets of the 49ers’ Jason Verrett, getting his first action since Week 1 of 2017 as he replaced Ahkello Witherspoon, who was carted off the field with an apparent foot injury. Verrett was called for a 32-yard pass interference and then yielded a 39-yard touchdown to Diontae Johnson. The defense held on the final drive; Rudolph finished with 174 yards and an 81.4 passer rating.
Rushing defense: A
The Steelers averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in the first half and never got the ground game going. Arik Armstead had a massive forced fumble of James Connor after James’ snafu near the goal line, giving the 49ers a reprieve at a critical moment following their fifth turnover. The Steelers finished with just 81 yards on the ground.
Special teams: B+
Mitch Wishnowsky averaged 50 yards on his first three punts while the Steelers had zero return yards. James averaged 10.6 yards on five punt returns. Robbie Gould made his one field goal and three extra points. The 49ers didn’t make any costly mistakes in the third phase. They didn’t make any game-changing plays, either.
The 49ers were massive favorites heading into the game. And it was clear they should have been the decidedly better team going against a first-time starting quarterback. Yet the devil was in the details. The five turnovers, somehow, didn’t cost San Francisco the game like it should have. They’ll have plenty to work on heading into the bye week.