49ers report card: ‘It was the way it was drawn up, which was sweet’

The 49ers overwhelmed the Steelers in the first half and cruised to a 30-7 opening win

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Here’s how the 49ers fared in their season-opening 30-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday:


Two plays on the first drive explained a lot about how this turned into a rout. First, instead of running on fourth-and-1, George Kittle caught Brock Purdy’s pass in the flat and raced 11 yards to the Steelers’ 34-yard line, which Purdy described as “exactly how we drew it up.” Purdy’s 8-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Brandon Aiyuk in the end zone after Deebo Samuel distracted the defense, which center Jake Brendel described as “the way it was drawn up, which was sweet.” To summarize, the 49ers had months to plan and practice this opening drive, which they executed into a 7-0 lead to neutralize a hostile environment. Purdy (19-of-29, 220 yards, two touchdowns, 20 rushing yards) demonstrated that last season was no fluke and that his elbow is not a problem. Aiyuk caught eight passes on eight targets for 129 yards and two touchdowns, both against Patrick Peterson.


On the second snap of the second half, Christian McCaffrey broke free and raced 65 yards for a touchdown, effectively ending the Steelers’ comeback hopes. Before that run, he was averaging 5 yards per carry. When Trent Williams is your left tackle and 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt is on the other side, running to the left makes a lot of sense. Elijah Mitchell gained only 10 yards on five attempts. The 49ers’ 188 yards rushing were the sixth-most in a season opener in franchise history.


The first of Drake Jackson’s three sacks was the most significant because it came on the first series. On the next series, Charvarius Ward was well-positioned to intercept a pass at midfield. Talanoa Hufanga had his own interception, and when his attempted lateral to Tashaun Gipson was ruled an illegal forward pass, Hufanga explained that he was attempting to replicate a feat accomplished by his mentor Troy Polamalu on the same Pittsburgh field. Apart from the final touchdown drive of the first half, Kenny Pickett looked erratic and flustered while completing 31-of-46 passes for 232 yards. Pickett used that touchdown drive to target cornerback Ambry Thomas for four completions; Thomas was evaluated for a concussion and cleared, according to Shanahan.


The Steelers’ first rushing attempt saw Fred Warner level Najee Harris for a 2-yard loss with Patrick Willis-type force, which was lost in the commotion. Harris gained 31 yards on six carries, but his 24-yard run gave the Steelers their first first down with 1:16 remaining before halftime. On that Harris run, Deommodore Lenoir drew an unnecessary roughness penalty, which wasn’t smart but reflected how physical and punishing the 49ers’ defense is. Remember, no team won the week after playing the 49ers last season.


Jake Moody made all three of his field-goal attempts (41, 32, and 40 yards) as well as his three point-after kicks in his NFL debut. Mitch Wishnowsky pinned all three of his punts inside the 20-yard line, and his game-opening kickoff resulted in a touchback, which was a bigger plus in retrospect given the Steelers’ later kick returns of 25, 32, and 34 yards.


Yes, Shanahan’s offense was impressive right from the start. Don’t overlook defensive coordinator Steve Wilks’ debut performance, as his unit did not allow a first down in the Steelers’ first five possessions. There are only 19 more victories to go.

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