The Pittsburgh Steelers are somehow bringing a 6-3 lead into the second half despite barely moving the ball at all, thanks to four defensive turnovers, including two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Those have primarily been self-inflicted wounds by the 49ers, including a dropped pass and a botched snap.
There’s really nothing very positive to say about the offense, though they did move the ball a bit on the final drive of the half, with a couple of third-down conversions. The defense has had its moments, for sure, including another sack by Stephon Tuitt. Minkah Fitzpatrick has an interception–off a pass Joe Haden defensed–and a forced fumble. And a missed tackle. And a dumb roughing the passer penalty.
James Conner opened the half with a first down on second and four for about six yards. At the 37, Rudolph completed to James Washington for nine, but Alejandro Villanueva was flagged for being downfield ineligibly. Now first and 15, he finally took a shot deep to Washington, but it looked like the receiver got held up a bit before the throw trying to get past the DB. He escaped pressure only to throw an interception on an awful pass by Kwon Williams. Ugly play, bad decision.
49ers now at the Steelers’ 38, Matt Breida picked up five on first down. The wide pitch on second got six. Jimmy Garoppolo found Ward on third and seven for a big play down inside the five, beating Joe Haden. On first and goal from the three, Wilson was stuffed by Tuitt. Hit in the backfield but he was able to fall forward. On second down, Tuitt tackled the fullback on a shovel pass, but picked up two yards, setting up third down from the one. Wilson punched it in to give the 49ers a 10-6 lead, seven points off of the turnover.
Washington couldn’t hang on on Rudolph’s first pass following the interception. After a Conner run for five yards, Rudolph was hit as he threw, the ball dying innocently with nobody around. Jordan Berry’s first punt of the second half was fielded at the 14 but returned to the 26.
Deebo Samuel dropped a deep pass off play action to start the ensuing drive. He had it but didn’t complete the catch through the ground. Bush prevented a long run by Breida, and and incompletion that followed resulted in a three and out. Ryan Switzer fair caught the punt inside the 20.
After a one-yard run, Conner picked up five on a screen pass to make it third and four. Rudolph finally connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was able to get to the edge with down downfield blocking and outrun his man for a 77-yard touchdown. In other words, ho-hum. The Steelers, suddenly, stunningly, retake the lead, 13-10.
But the 49ers responded well, getting the run game going and working off play action, connecting on a big play to Pettis. Inside the 20, Garoppolo connected to Pettis down inside the five for a first and goal. At the four, Wilson again punched his way ahead to allow the home team to grab the lead right back in short order.
Benny Snell checked in for his third carry of the game, but was cut down near the line of scrimmage. On the final play of the third quarter, four wide, Rudolph threw short to Grimble, who was blocking on the play, for a two-yard gain. Washington was tackled just short of the first. Berry punted on fourth and inches, fielded at the 19 and tackled at the 24.
The rookie left tackle was docked for a hold, making it second and 17, Garoppolo forced to scramble on the play for about five. Skule was flagged again for a blindside block, making it instead second and 26. Back to the nine, Wilson was tackled for a three-yard gain. Now third and 23, they played the draw. Switzer fielded the punt at the 30 and was tackled at the…26. And Holton was flagged for a hold. Pushing them back to the 16, trailing by four.
Actually the 19. Conner broke out for a 10-yard run after looking like he might be stopped in the backfield on first down. Washington drew a pass interference call against Jason Verrett on the next play across midfield. At the 39. He went deep again, finding Diontae Johnson for the touchdown, wide open in the end zone, again beating Verrett. Verrett replaced the 49ers’ injured starting quarterback, and the Steelers attacked it immediately. Now with the 20-17 lead.
Breida kept his feet on a wide pitch for seven yards. Garoppolo tossed a pass over heads to Goodwin for a nice gain. In Steelers territory, Breida got to the edge for six. Mostert ripped a run up the middle for 19 inside the red zone to follow. It was Mostert again for six. Now Wilson got five to make it first and goal.
Wilson was stopped after a yard on first down. Garoppolo was lucky just to get rid of the ball on second down, narrowly avoiding a sack multiple times. Now third and goal, the 49ers, incredibly, botched another snap, with T.J. Watt falling on it for their fifth turnover of the game. The snap directly hit the wide receiver in motion in the face. It’s really quite incredible how badly San Francisco has hurt itself today.
Now at the 14, Conner got the ball on first down for about four yards. Off play action, Rudolph checked down to Conner for a first down. Conner on the next play gave the ball back, fumbling trying to reach forward behind the line of scrimmage. The 49ers get a mulligan at the 24.
Kittle for nine on first down, Wilson just shy of the first on the next play. Now third and a foot, a keeper gave them a new set of downs. From the 13, the fullback got three on first down. Bush tackled Kittle after five yards, but a hold wiped out the play. On second and 17, Richie James got to the 14, Fitzpatrick on the tackle. Now third and 11, an incompletion in the end zone, defended by Cameron Sutton, was negated by a hold on Mark Barron, giving the 49ers a first down.
Cameron Heyward was injured on the play, laying on his chest and very slow to get up. He did eventually walk off.
From the nine, Wilson got four on first down. Garoppolo found Pettis at the goal line for the go-ahead score with 1:15 to play. That’s how much time Rudolph will have left to score a touchdown, off of the Conner fumble. The 49ers have 14 points off of two turnovers. The Steelers have six point off of five turnovers.
Starting from the 22, Rudolph was forced the scramble and throw it away on first down. He took off for about seven on second down, the Steelers using their second timeout. On third and three, the second-year quarterback was sacked, losing the ball as well, but recovered. Finally, on fourth and 11, with no timeouts remaining, Rudolph nearly threw an interception, the pass incomplete, ending the game and sending the Steelers to 0-3 on the year.