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Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Notebook: Steelers ‘kicked in the teeth’; Nick Bosa’s pitch count; WRs impress with blocks; The Faithful stun Steeler Nation with turnout

Sep 10, 2023 at 6:49 PM--

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Week 1 of the 2023 season was a good one for San Francisco 49ers fans, who watched their team travel to Pittsburgh and unleash a 30-7 beatdown on the Steelers in the season opener. The 49ers played well in all facets of the game and justified their early status as one of the league's top Super Bowl contenders.

And several thousand of those fans were able to show their appreciation in person, turning out in full force to make their presence felt in a city that is known for having one of the country's most devoted fanbases.

The amount of 49ers fans at Acrisure Field in Pittsburgh on Sunday is one of many topics we'll go over in the first 49ers Notebook of the 2023 regular season. We'll also get into what the Steelers thought of their loss, touch on Nick Bosa's first game action since returning from his holdout, and much more.

This ain't the preseason

The Steelers came into Sunday's game coming off a strong preseason that got fans excited for what the regular season might bring. The 49ers reminded them early and often on Sunday that the NFL preseason doesn't mean squat.

The 49ers scored on each of their first four possessions against the Steelers and built a 20-0 lead before the midway point in the second quarter. The Steelers were unable to recover.

"No way did I envision this," Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith said after the game, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "They are a great team. They came in and played like it. We didn't."

The Steelers didn't get a first down on the 49ers until their final drive of the first half. They were outgained 391 to 239 by the 49ers and finished the game with 22 minutes and 37 seconds of possession time compared to 37:23 for the 49ers.

"We have to prepare them better. They have to play better," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said, per the Tribune-Review. "That is just the reality of it. We got kicked in the teeth today in a lot of ways."

Fortunately for the Steelers, what happens in Week 1 often doesn't reflect what's going to happen the rest of the season. The 49ers are an example of that, having lost their 2022 season opener to the league's worst team (the 3-14 Chicago Bears) before eventually making a run to the NFC Championship. Still, Sunday's result was far from the right way to start the season.

"We just didn't execute, honestly," said Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett, who finished 31-of-46 for 232 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, per ESPN. "I think it was more us than them. I felt comfortable what I was seeing, what they were doing. We just didn't execute."

49ers not getting too excited

While the Steelers were stunned and dejected by Sunday's result, the 49ers couldn't have been happier with the way their season began. But they weren't about to get too hyped up about what happened, because like we just said -- there's a long way to go.

"I mean, it's Week 1. We don't know," 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk said after the win. "We don't know anything about them. We don't know. We don't know. So let the rest of the season play out. But definitely feels good to be 1-0."

The 49ers have had issues with starting slow under head coach Kyle Shanahan, who moved to 3-4 in season openers with the win on Sunday. So there's no question they were happy to avoid another slow start with their win over the Steelers. But they'll quickly move past it and focus on their first division game next Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.

"This year, I think each play has a life of its own," running back Christian McCaffrey said. "Each game has a life of its own. Today we won. Next week there's a challenge. This is the NFL. It doesn't work like that. I wish it did. That'd be awesome.

"But for us, it's just about getting better. Watching the tape, capitalizing on your strengths and fixing the weaknesses and fixing all the things that we need to get changed and go from there. But each week has a new life, and so for us, it's like I said, just back to the drawing board."

The Faithful do it again

49ers fans never fail to impress with their support in road stadiums. They did it again on Sunday by adding a shade of red to the sea of yellow at Acrisure Field, much to the surprise and dismay of Steelers fans and media.

49ers players took notice.

"The amount of love that they showed us today all the way out here in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, like, it's incredible, man," linebacker Fred Warner said, per Pro Football Talk. "They showed up big time, The Faithful."

Nick Bosa's return

It wasn't clear how much 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa would play on Sunday after ending his holdout last week, but thanks to some strong play from his teammates, Bosa was able to stay on the field for much of the game.

The 49ers planned to limit Bosa's snaps on Sunday after sitting out the entirety of training camp and the preseason. But due to the defense holding the Steelers without a first down for most of the first half, Bosa was able to play a bigger portion of the game than expected.

"Our number was between 30 and 40 (snaps)," head coach Kyle Shanahan said Sunday. "That's what we said going in but hopefully we can keep it there and that's what we were going for. It made it a little easier with some of the three and outs and that's why we kept him out there at the end for most of it."

Bosa had a quiet game statistically, finishing with two tackles and one quarterback hit. But he felt fine physically throughout the game and was able to reach his planned snap count without a problem.

"It felt good," Bosa said. "Body held up good. I played pretty much the exact amount of snaps we were hoping for, and the three-and-outs kind of helped me not go too hard early. But (my) body felt great. That was the number one thing. And a win's always nice."

The 49ers got a stellar day from the rest of their defensive line Sunday, helping to limit the Steelers to just 41 yards on the ground while chipping in five sacks.

"Amazing," Warner said. "I knew that was going to be the case. I don't know if we'd had all those guys healthy out there all camp. Obviously we had Bosa come back late, and having everybody healthy out there, you saw what the result was."

A 65-yard run to the house, with a couple of big assists

The Steelers had some momentum coming into the second half after scoring a touchdown right before halftime, but it came to a quick halt early in the third quarter after a 65-yard touchdown run by McCaffrey.

McCaffrey made some terrific moves during his run, but he had help from Aiyuk and wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, who both got physical with their blocking on the play.

Aiyuk in particular drew plenty of praise for his block on social media. He was actually confused early on during the run but wound up making a play for the highlight reel.

"It was a crazy game plan in the run game just in terms of our assignments on the outside, going in tight, blocking those guys on the end, blocking the linebackers," Aiyuk said. "But they did a great job. They kind of gave us some different looks, so it was kind of messy, that play. I didn't even know what to do. I just kind of saw Christian breaking free and then went to go check somebody."

The efforts of Aiyuk, McCloud and others were certainly appreciated by McCaffrey.

"When you got receivers who block like that, it's a special feeling for a running back because you truly feel like your guys have your back. And that's an awesome feeling to have when you're out there," McCaffrey said. "So when all eleven are committed to the run game, you got fullback who's the best in the league, you got tight end who's the best of the league at what he does, and all five O-linemen just working their ass off all day, it's fun to be able to go out there and run the ball behind people who are so committed to do it."

In the Mood(y)

Somewhat lost in the performance of the offense and defense on Sunday was the debut of rookie kicker Jake Moody, who was perfect on field goals (3-for-3) and extra points (3-for-3) after a rocky preseason.

Moody was 3-of-5 on field goals and 1-of-2 on extra points in the preseason after joining the 49ers in the spring as a third-round draft pick out of the University of Michigan. There was also a nervous moment in late August when Moody sustained a quadriceps strain. But all of that was behind him on Sunday, and he was able to deliver what the 49ers expect from him.

"It's just another game," Moody said Sunday. "That's the kind of stuff that if I'm too worried about that, I'm not focused on what I need to be doing, which is making kicks. It felt like a normal game."

Moody proved to the 49ers in practice that he was the answer they were looking for at kicker, and on Sunday he was able to carry it over to the field.

"We've felt so good about him in practice every day. He's been great," Shanahan said. "We know he had a couple of struggles in the preseason game and then got hurt, but he healed a lot faster than we expected, so he's been pretty good here in practice and we still want to see it in the games. Getting the delay a game at first, we did that just to make it harder for him. He looked great there and it continued through the whole game so he did a hell of a job today. "

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