The San Francisco 49ers pulled off something of an ugly 31-17 win on the road over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While it wasn't clean, the Niners start the season 1-0 and deserve some positive grades here and there, especially on defense.


A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers would have lost the kind of game they ended up winning in Week 1 to start the 2019 season: a 31-17 road victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

For starters, this marked the first East Coast road game the Niners have won since 2014, and head coach Kyle Shanahan failed to win a road game at all in 2018.

There's much more to it all, of course, but San Francisco has to get a lot of credit for engineering a strong defensive effort against what could end up being a decent Buccaneers offense this season. Especially through the air.

Yet the Bucs and Niners struggled early, offensively, and the 49ers do have a number of key concerns heading into Week 2.

Here are your Week 1 positional grades for San Francisco.

Quarterback: D+


Sunday was rough for Jimmy Garoppolo. While he did finish the day with an 18-of-27 mark, that one pick-six interception into the hands of Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves wasn't a good look. Hargreaves was defending against running back Tevin Coleman in the flat, so the defensive back didn't have to anticipate being burned by a slower running back. Hargreaves read the route, anticipated and easily picked it off for six points.

Garoppolo missed other targets, too, including tossing behind wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on what could have been a long touchdown pass. He missed high on fellow receiver Kendrick Bourne as well.

Garoppolo did manage a touchdown pass to fellow receiver Richie James on a 39-yard play, which was promising:


But Garoppolo didn't answer any questions whether or not he's a franchise-elite signal-caller. And the rust argument is only going to last so long.

Running Back: C-


It was tough going for San Francisco ball carriers on Sunday. Losing Coleman to an ankle injury halfway through the game didn't help, either, especially after he added an impressive 56 yards combined through the air and on the ground before exiting. Fellow running back Matt Breida was held to 2.5 yards per carry, although special teams ace Raheem Mostert filled Coleman's void nicely, averaging 4.4 yards on nine carries.

The Buccaneers did a good job controlling the line of scrimmage, cutting down on a number of the Niners' chances on the ground.

Wide Receiver: D-


Save the James touchdown, the 49ers received almost zero production from their wide receivers in Week 1. Goodwin and Bourne combined for just two catches for 16 yards, and second-year pro Dante Pettis, who didn't even start the game, had one catch for seven yards.

Rookie wideout Deebo Samuel had a tough, physical grab on third down in the first quarter. That's promising. But just before halftime, he also coughed up a fumble that negated a would-be chance for the 49ers to kick a field goal just before time expired. The Buccaneers recovered and took a 7-6 lead into the second half.

There is a combination of question marks here, but the Niners wide receivers didn't offer any answers on Sunday, either.

Tight End: B


George Kittle is pretty good at football. He managed 54 yards on eight catches, including a number of critical ones in the second half.

Kittle didn't take over the game, but one could argue the 49ers may have lost Week 1 if it wasn't for Kittle.

Offensive Line: D+


The Buccaneers owned the second-worst scoring defense a year ago. And while they added a number of playmakers during the offseason, this unit wasn't expected to be great in 2019.

Yet Tampa Bay's defensive front absolutely controlled the line of scrimmage against a fully healthy Niners offensive line, eliminating many an inside rush lane and putting Garoppolo under pressure for most of the game. On the plus side, Garoppolo was sacked just once. At least that's a bonus.

Some of those presnap penalties on the O-line have to get frustrating, too.

Defensive Line: B


The 49ers' two biggest additions this offseason, edge rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa, each recorded a sack and had a combined four quarterback hits between them on Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston. This is the kind of pressure San Francisco was hoping for when it added both players.

So far, the results looked pretty good, even if there were some misses on the Niners' pass-rushing efforts.

The 49ers had some problems defending against interior runs late in the game. But when factoring in the heat, humidity and being worn down over nearly four quarters, there's a level of acceptability here. Good job from San Francisco's best and deepest unit against a dangerous offense.

Linebacker: B+


Kwon Alexander looked like a player playing with his hair on fire, both in a good and bad sense. Alexander, returning to visit his former team, was tough and physical early on but led with his helmet on a hit against Winston towards the end of the first quarter. The 15-yard penalty was easy to understand, but Alexander was subsequently ejected from the game.

Good thing the Niners kept special teams ace Mark Nzeocha on the roster, who recorded one of the Niners' three interceptions on the day.

Fellow linebacker Fred Warner led the defense with nine tackles, broke up a pass and forced a fumble. Good game from him, too.

Secondary: B-


A number of "Jerkyll and Hyde" moments from the 49ers defensive backfield. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman was flagged a couple of times early, including one non-call which was challenged by Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians and overturned. But Sherman answered back with a pick-six interception touchdown early in the third quarter, and that helped set San Francisco's defensive tone there.

Second-year safety Tarvarius Moore had some gaffes in coverage, too, although his critical pass breakup on 4th-and-goal in the waning minutes was vital. If only Moore had picked it, though, he likely would have had an interception returned for a touchdown as well.

Third-year cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was San Francisco's best defensive back on the day, and his fourth-quarter pick six sealed the 49ers victory. Witherspoon is showing a lot of improvement and development from what was a forgettable 2018 campaign:


Special Teams: A-


Robbie Gould shouldn't have had to try that 57-yard field goal he missed. It would have been smarter to punt and pin the Buccaneers offense deep within its own territory, given the context of the game at the time.

Still, Gould hit on his three other kicks. And rookie punter Mitch Wishnowsky showed why the Niners used a fourth-round pick on him in the NFL Draft.

But the biggest special teams play came right away, as Nzeocha blocked former 49ers punter Bradley Pinion's first punt. Nzeocha, like Mostert, cut his teeth on special teams play. Plays like this illustrate that.

Coaching: D


From the defensive vantage point, coordinator Robert Saleh should get a solid grade. His defense was excellent, especially considering the heat and humidity.

But Shanahan made a few of his own mistakes, and those are magnified here. Case in point, it was trying a screen pass in the waning seconds of the first half to Samuel probably wasn't the best idea. What would have been smarter, instead of setting the table for a Samuel fumble, would have been some clock-burning runs by a sure-handed player, such as Breida, getting the clock down to two or three seconds. And then a field goal to close out the first two quarters would have sufficed. Those three missed points loomed large well into the fourth quarter.

Shanahan also should have gone with a punt, instead of that Gould missed field goal, considering Winston's struggles and the Bucs' turnover issues earlier in the game.

Yet what could be the biggest problem of all is the fact San Francisco was flagged 11 times for 87 yards. That's not promising.

If there's good news here, though, the 49ers of 2017 and 2018 would have likely lost games in which they were penalized so many times. The fact they held on in Week 1 appears to be a good sign, especially considering a lot of teams deal with hefty penalties early in the season as units continue to jell.

Shanahan admitted such later in the game, so it will be interesting to see how the Niners adjust in advance of their Week 2 road contest against the Cincinnati Bengals.
  • 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.