The 49ers, despite committing five turnovers, defeated the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, 24-20. San Francisco is now 3-0 for the first time since 1998, while Pittsburgh is 0-3 for the first time since 2013.
Pittsburgh, featuring new starting quarterback Mason Rudolph and new free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, had the lead on three different occasions, including after Diontae Johnson's 39-yard touchdown catch to go up 20-17 with just over 10 minutes remaining. The Steelers' defense, stellar in the first half, allowed three second half touchdowns, including Jimmy Garoppolo's five-yard, game-winning pass to Dante Pettis with 1:15 left.
Garoppolo finished the game with 277 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, while Rudolph completed just over half of his 27 attempts for 174 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Fitzpatrick recorded a pick and a forced fumble in his Steelers' debut, while Pittsburgh starting inside linebacker Devin Bush recovered two forced fumbles. The 49ers' defense was led by defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who tallied a team-high eight tackles while also recovering James Conner's fumble that set up San Francisco's game-winning touchdown.
Why the 49ers won
San Francisco's red zone defense allowed the 49ers to stay in the game despite its offense coughing up four first-half turnovers. San Francisco's defense also forced two second-half turnovers that led to 14 points.
Why the Steelers lost
Pittsburgh's offense failed to take full advantage of San Francisco's four first-half turnovers. The Steelers, who struggled to find an early rhythm with Rudolph under center, amassed just 76 yards in the game's first 30 minutes.
Conner's fumble, which came just three plays after the Steelers forced a fifth 49ers turnover, proved to be the nail in Pittsburgh's coffin. Third downs were also key in this game. The Steelers were just 3 of 12 on third down, while the 49ers went 6 of 11 while controlling the ball for over 36 minutes.
The Steelers appeared to be in the driver's seat when linebacker T.J. Watt recovered the 49ers' fifth turnover inside Pittsburgh's 10-yard line with under seven minutes left. Just three plays after Watt's recovery, San Francisco defensive end Arik Armstead made the game's big play when his forced fumble of Conner was recovered by Buckner. The play set up the 49ers' game-winning score.
Play of the game
San Fran's second forced turnover set the stage for Garoppolo, who hit Pettis for the game-winning score. Despite the turnovers, the 49ers amassed 26 first downs and 436 yards in total offense.
In a losing effort
While the Steelers lost, Pittsburgh should be encouraged by Rudolph's two second half touchdown passes, which included a 76-yard strike to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Johnson, who saw considerably more reps with Donte Moncrief inactive, caught his first career touchdown pass while finishing as Pittsburgh's second leading receiver.
"Niner Gang, we appreciate you guys. We went out there and fought for you. It's not always pretty. It's not always going to be a blowout and [you can] just get to sit back comfortably in your seats and drink. Sometimes, we gotta keep you on the edge of your seats. We gotta keep you involved … But we appreciate you guys sticking through, being loud, being proud. 3-0 for the first time since '98, Niner Gang." -- 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, who openly challenged the San Francisco fan base to be loud prior to Sunday's game
"We get ready for next week. It's as simple of that. That's life in the National Football League. It be the same had we won. We're not into the keep it together discussion. That's not how we're built. There will be a game next week, we'll be ready." -- Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, when asked he his keeps his team together after 0-3 start
The Steelers host the winless Bengals in Cincinnati next Monday night, while the 49ers head out for their Week 4 bye.
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