For his debut in the hot cauldron that was Levi Stadium, Mason Rudolph did much to make Steelers fans believe he has a future in professional football. He was supported by a defense that did everything it could to create opportunities for him, but he was failed by the lack of a Steelers ground game.
Where was the running game? Has the loss of offensive line coach Mike Munchak really made that difference or is age catching up with the veterans?
Rudolph finished with a quarterback rating of 81.4 that was bolstered by his two touchdown passes of 76 yards to JuJu and 39 yards to Diontae Johnson. The demise of Donte Moncrief saw Johnson promoted to the Steelers third receiver.
TJ Watt’s interception on the game’s first possession gave the Steelers the ball on their opponents 33. Nine minutes later Bud Dupree’s interception placed the ball on the 49ers’ 24. These were two golden opportunities in the first quarter for the Steelers to take a fourteen-point advantage, but two field goals let the 49ers off the hook.
The Steelers defense continued to sparkle in the second quarter. Two defensive fumble recoveries by Devin Bush stifled potential San Francisco scoring chances and kept their opponents to three points as the Steelers led 6-3 at the half.
At the beginning of the third quarter, Rudolph’s interception led to a 49ers’ touchdown put them 9-6 lead ahead as they failed on their two-point conversion attempt. The Steelers regained the lead as their offense picked up. An outstanding catch from JuJu saw him dance along the sideline for the score.
San Francisco took a 17-13 lead into the final quarter as the teams jostled for dominance. Johnson’s 39-yard touchdown catch seesawed the Steelers 20-17 back in front and a defensive stand on the 49ers next possession put the Steelers in sight of their first victory.
A James Conner fumble brought them back to earth and despite another strong Pittsburgh defensive display, San Francisco took a 24-20 win.
The Steelers fall to 0-3, but the season can begin next Monday when they play their first divisional game against Cincinnati.
Mike Tomlin’s post game comments:
“You know, we lost the game today and we did, we lost the game on not enough play making. Specifically in the second half I thought significant components of the game, in terms of how it unfolded, is we turned the ball over twice and on both occasions we gave up touchdowns. First of all, we’ve got to do a good job of taking care of the ball. We know that. Particularly, in the state that we’re in from a health standpoint, we didn’t do it. And then subsequently, we have to support the offense and get off at least some of the time, you know?
We turned the ball over twice. They scored two touchdowns in the second half and really that’s the difference in the game. In the first half, we were getting turnovers and we were settling for field goals. So, there’s the, you know, that’s the story line of the game, if you will. Such is life in the National Football League. We take responsibility for it. We own it. Not good enough today. We won’t blink. We’ve got AFC ball next week. We’ll be ready for it. Vance McDonald got injured in the game. His shoulder’s being evaluated. He wasn’t able to return. The rest I think is just bumps and bruises associated with play.
At the very start of the fourth quarter you had fourth and very short. What was the calculation of not going for it?
“It was at the very start of the fourth quarter.”
Where do you go from here? How do you keep things together after this start?
“We get ready for next week, you know? It’s as simple as that. That’s life in the National Football League. It’d be the same had we won, you know? We’re not into the keep it together discussions. That’s not how we’re built. We have a game next week. We’ll be ready.”
What do you take away from your quarterback’s performance?
“We lost today, all of us.”