The San Francisco 49ers did not do a good job of protecting the ball in Week 3 against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers, ultimately coughing up five turnovers, yet still finding a way to pull off an ugly 24-20 victory. And now, the Niners find themselves 3-0 for the first time since 1998.

It could have been much worse, though.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tossed two interceptions, and he also fumbled twice, losing one of them on a handoff to running back Raheem Mostert. Mostert also lost another fumble, too, while wide receiver Richie James fumbled. Garoppolo also missed on a number of passes, as his receiving targets had issues holding onto the ball early in the game.

Still, the Niners figured out a way to win. Even though Pittsburgh managed to take a late fourth-quarter lead, following a 39-yard touchdown from quarterback Mason Rudolph to wide receiver Diontae Johnson that put the Steelers up 20-17, Garoppolo and the offense still managed to hang in there late.

And with fewer than two minutes remaining in regulation, Garoppolo hit second-year wide receiver Dante Pettis for what proved to be the game-winning score.

"It's growth," cornerback Richard Sherman said after the game. "It's growth. It's offense, defense, special teams. Because it takes three units to win a ballgame, and that's what we did today."

For the most part, especially early on, San Francisco's defense was making up for the offense's growing number of turnovers, regularly thwarting Pittsburgh's early offensive drives. At halftime, the Steelers had managed a mere 76 yards, compared to 206 from the 49ers. But the Niners' four first-half turnovers kept giving Pittsburgh chances.

"We showed that all three units have trust in each other," Sherman continued. "All three units picked one another up when another fell apart. And that's how we were able to win the game.

"It's trust. You'll appreciate games like this."

In 2017 or 2018, the 49ers would have lost games like this. Or like their Week 1 victory on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, during which the offense also struggled.

"Those are games we have not been able to win," head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after Week 3's win. "To have two games like that, where things don't go perfect, it says a lot about the character of the guys in there."

Shanahan referenced a turnover-laden Week 5 contest against the Arizona Cardinals last season, in which the 49ers dominated their NFC West division rivals in every category, except two crucial ones: turnovers and the final score.

In Week 3, against a desperate still-winless Steelers team, the Niners managed to hold their own despite more than a handful of offensive problems.

"It's a mindset that we have in that locker room," Garoppolo said after the game. "It's a great group of guys and great coaches. It starts with the top down.

"We know what we have. We just have to go prove it on the field."


Unlike what happened against the Cardinals in Week 5 last year, San Francisco proved it could win a game in spite of the flurry of turnovers which plagued the offense, particularly in the first half.

And the 49ers can enter their Week 4 bye atop the NFC West and with a perfect 3-0 record, hopefully using the bonus time to address injuries and to cut down on those turnovers.
  • Peter Panacy
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.