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The Steelers Stink!

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 10: Brock Purdy #13 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after running for a first down in the fourth quarter of a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on September 10, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Kenny Pickett’s first-down pass to George Pickens with 1:25 left in the second quarter was originally ruled a first down. Then the refs looked at it and said Pickett did not, in fact, pick up the first. So it was just a nine-yard pass—and that nine-yarder gave the Steelers 10 yards on the day. It also was the Steelers’ 16th offensive play of the game, meaning they still had less than a yard per play. Still, 0.625 yards per play is significantly better than 0.066… yards per play. A downright success compared to what had come earlier.

The Steelers actually did turn that small success into quite a drive! Pickett took Pittsburgh 95 yards in 90 seconds, ending with a touchdown pass to Pat Freiermuth. Despite the terrible first half, Pittsburgh trailed by just (“just”) 20-7 at the half. But any optimism did not last long. Two offensive plays into the second half, Christian McCaffrey ran for a 65-yard touchdown and the 49ers were up by 20, again.

Mike Tomlin is in his 17th season as Steelers head coach; he has not had a losing record in his first 16 seasons. His crap squad still went 9-8 last year! Those Steelers only missed the playoffs on a head-to-head tiebreaker with Miami despite a 2-6 start, so Tomlin has turned things around in recent memory. But yeesh! Najee Harris had 31 yards rushing and 24 of them came on one play. Pickett threw two picks. And Freiermuth left the game with a chest injury. The 49ers won—no surprise there—30-7 in Pittsburgh.

The game was basically over before the Steelers got a first down. The Niners scored on their first four drives, which started at the San Francisco 46, the Pittsburgh 48, the San Francisco 32, and midfield. San Francisco dominated on both sides. Brock Purdy went just 19-for-29, but he averaged 7.6 yards per pass (here’s last year's leaders) and threw a pair of touchdowns. The Steelers allowed 4.2 yards a rush last season. The 49ers had 5.5 yards per rush today, including 6.9 a carry from McCaffrey, who ran for 152 yards.

The 49ers should be good this year. Brandon Aiyuk, who had two touchdowns, caught all eight of his targets, and Purdy looked fine. But all that only means so much because, geeeeeez, was Pittsburgh bad. The Steelers’ final three possessions ended with a turnover on downs, an interception—thrown from a clean pocket into double coverage— and then another turnover on down. The Steelers’ season could not have started much worse.

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