The Steelers suffered a defeat at the hands of the 49ers in the season opener. With high expectations following a strong preseason, including a perfect 3-0 record, the Steelers faced a significant challenge against the San Francisco 49ers, a team with two prior NFC Championship appearances.
It proved to be a test they couldn’t overcome. Aiyuk caught 8 deep passes for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns, while also making a crucial interception in a play involving McCaffery. McCaffery rushed for 151 yards as the 49ers defeated the Steelers 30-7 at the Acrisure Stadium to kick off the season.
The duo accumulated a total of 297 yards, surpassing the Steelers’ 246 yards in the game and accounting for over two-thirds of San Francisco’s offensive plays.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin commented, “A disappointing day for us. Not the way we wanted to perform. At the same time, you have to give credit to those guys because it unfolded in the manner that they desired. Typically, in games like this, the winning team reveals their character more than the opponent. There’s no doubt about it, the game unfolded in a style of play they preferred.”
The Steelers struggled in the preseason, scoring on all five of their offensive possessions with the first team on the field. They had possession five times in the first half of this game and failed to score any points until Najee Harris broke free on the edge in the third and 1 to gain 24 yards with just 1:24 left in the first half.
Deommodore Lenoir of the 49ers hit Harris out of bounds, resulting in a personal foul penalty at 15 yards, pushing the ball to the San Francisco 47.
Then, on the possession, Lenoir was penalized for illegal contact on third down and 10, leading to the Steelers automatically getting a first down with 13 seconds left in the half, and Pickett took advantage by connecting with Pat Freiermuth on a 3-yard touchdown pass to narrow San Francisco’s lead to 20-7 at halftime.
Even with a scoring drive of 12 plays covering 95 yards, the Steelers managed only 77 yards of offense in the first half, illustrating how challenging the first 29 minutes of the half were.
Steelers defensive tackle Mason Cole said, “It’s tough when we can’t get off the field on defense. We didn’t play well like we wanted to on offense.”
While the Steelers’ offense struggled, San Francisco capitalized on some excellent field position and a Pickett interception to put up 20 points on a pair of touchdown passes from Brock Purdy to Aiyuk and two field goals by Jake Moody.
With their lead reduced to 13 points after the Steelers’ late score in the first half, the 49ers had the ball to start the second half. On their second play from scrimmage, following a script-like scenario, Christian McCaffery took a lateral from the left, escaped a tackle attempt in the backfield, and streaked down the sideline in front of the Steelers’ bench. He received a massive block from Aiyuk at Damontae Kazee’s safety and then raced into the end zone on a 65-yard touchdown reception, extending San Francisco’s lead to 27-7 early in the third quarter.
From there, it seemed clear what the outcome of the game would be.
To make matters worse, the Steelers suffered injuries during the game, losing defensive tackle Cam Heyward to a groin injury, defensive tackle DeMarvin Leal to an elbow injury, Freiermuth to a chest injury, and Diontae Johnson to a wrist injury at various points in the game.
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