The San Francisco 49ers somehow managed to keep the Pittsburgh Steelers winless through three weeks in 2019, winning the Levi's Stadium home opener 24-20 despite turning the ball over five times. And here are some notable takeaways for the Niners.


In all honesty, the San Francisco 49ers should have lost their Week 3 bout against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Teams committing five turnovers typically don't win games, even against the worst of competition.

But somehow, the Niners managed to upend the Steelers 24-20 on Sunday at Levi's Stadium. This, after San Francisco turned the ball over those five times, including four in the first half. Despite those turnovers in quarters one and two, the 49ers defense still managed to hold its own, keeping the game in range with a mere 6-3 Pittsburgh lead at halftime.

And while the game opened up a bit in the second half, the 49ers figured out a way to come out on top.

"When our offense gave a turnover and put us in a hard spot, we took it as Murphy's law," cornerback Richard Sherman said after the game. "We took it as Murphy's law, and you want to slap Murphy in the face, and we did that today."

That's a pretty good takeaway for the 49ers. Here are five others.

No. 5: 49ers will miss Joe Staley, but Justin Skule holds his own


Rookie offensive tackle Justin Skule got his first NFL start, filling in for injured left tackle Joe Staley, who will be out for a few weeks with a broken leg.

Skule wasn't perfect, flagged for two penalties on the day and giving up a handful of pressures on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

"Can't have those penalties," Skule said after the game. "Those were costly penalties at pretty bad times."

San Francisco will hope Skule takes those gaffes as part of the learning experience.

No. 4: 49ers can rush four with good success


The Niners haven't had to rely on a lot of blitzes this season, which is good. Instead, a four-man pass rush has been solid enough. And while San Francisco didn't face top-tier offensive lines in Weeks 1 and 2, Pittsburgh proved to be another challenge altogether. Entering 2019, Pro Football Focus ranked the Steelers O-line third overall in the league.

Without having to rely heavily on blitzes, the 49ers were still able to sack Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph twice and put four hits on him. But it was the pressure, which proved to be the difference maker.

Pressure ultimately led to cornerback K'Waun Williams' crucial interception, which helped set up San Francisco's game-winning scoring drive:


No. 3: Jimmy Garoppolo can have up-and-down games, but 49ers can still win


No, the 49ers don't need Garoppolo to be elite or perfect on a week-to-week basis. He tossed for only 166 yards in Week 1, yet San Francisco still managed to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road.

Now, in Week 3, Garoppolo tossed one touchdown against two interceptions, although it's a good argument not to pin the turnovers entirely on Garoppolo.

In total, Garoppolo was 23-of-32 for 277 yards and an 82.4 passer rating. It wasn't the best outing, but it didn't have to be. San Francisco's defense helped pick up the quarterback.

"But the defense, when they're playing like that, it gives you such confidence on the sideline," Garoppolo said after the game. "So, it was just more about getting our guys ready for the next series. They make huge plays like that on defense, it sets us up for success."

The 49ers are now 9-2 in games Garoppolo started.

No. 2: San Francisco's defense is actually... good?


Yes, the Steelers were starting a quarterback making his first NFL start. And their top running back, James Conner, has been banged up for much of the young season.

That said, the Niners defense answered the call nearly every time following an offensive turnover. By the end of the first half, PIttsburg had managed only 76 total yards despite being handed the ball four extra times by the way of a turnover.

Overall, San Francisco gave up just 241 all-purpose yards in Week 3. Paired with the 611 combined yards the Niners gave up in Weeks 1 and 2, the defense is allowing an average of just 284 yards per game this season.

Stacked against last year's yards-per-game rankings, that would have placed the 49ers fourth best in this particular category.

No. 1: 49ers can win the ugly games, too


San Francisco had a shoddy offensive effort in Week 1. And while the offense gained yardage relatively easily against Pittsburgh, turnovers were the key problem.

Last season, or the year before, the Niners would have ended up losing games like this. And it's a fact not lost on head coach Kyle Shanahan, who pointed out as much after the game.

"Anytime you have five turnovers in a game, that means you didn't play that well," he said. "But, you take those away, and every aspect of the game decides that. I thought the guys did very well."

Shanahan compared this contest to the Week 5 loss the 49ers suffered a year ago, in which they dominated the visiting Arizona Cardinals in nearly every statistical category, except the two which counted most: turnovers and the final score.

"It reminded me a lot of the Arizona game we had last year," the head coach continued. "We had a game versus Arizona where it was like 30 first downs to 10, and like 500 yards to 200. But we ended up losing the game because we had all those turnovers.

"Today was very similar ... but thd defense, they stepped it up big."

And by doing so, the Niners proved they could win ugly, even on an off day from its offense.
  • Peter Panacy
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    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.