Brock Purdy

What we learned as Purdy, Aiyuk, CMC carve up Steelers in 49ers' win

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PITTSBURGH — Aside from a one-minute lapse at the end of the first half, the 49ers’ 2023 NFL season opener was about as good as it could possibly get for Kyle Shanahan’s team.

Quarterback Brock Purdy, just six months removed from elbow surgery, sliced up the Pittsburgh Steelers while the 49ers’ defense looked every bit as dominant as it did a year ago.

The 49ers blasted out to a 20-point lead and cruised to a convincing 30-7 victory over the Steelers in the regular-season opener.

Newly signed Nick Bosa started and played almost the entire first half, as the 49ers’ defense did not allow a first down through five Steelers possessions.

Running back Christian McCaffrey had a huge game as he began his first full season with the 49ers after arriving last year in a midseason trade from the Carolina Panthers.

McCaffrey rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts, and broke the game open with a long touchdown run on the first drive of the second half.

The Steelers’ offense finally showed some hints of life with a 95-yard touchdown drive to close the first half. But their momentum lasted less than a minute of game action.

McCaffrey darted around the left side and picked up blocks downfield from Brandon Aiyuk and Ray-Ray McCloud en route to a 65-yard touchdown to push the 49ers’ lead to 27-7.

It was the 49ers’ first win in Pittsburgh since 1996. The only other road games against the Steelers were in 2007 and 2015, games in which the 49ers lost 37-16 and 43-18, respectively.

Here are three takeaways from the 49ers’ Week 1 victory:

Purdy-Aiyuk connection

Aiyuk enters a pivotal season, as he could be in line for a multi-year contract extension a year from now. He looked like the 49ers' best player during training camp, and he carried it over into the Week 1 game.

Aiyuk caught eight passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns.

Purdy looked for Aiyuk near the goal line, and the two hooked up on two touchdown passes in the first half to help the 49ers build a 20-0 lead.

Aiyuk capped the 49ers’ first offensive possession with an 8-yard touchdown reception. Peterson was also in coverage on that play.

Aiyuk made a sensational 19-yard touchdown catch against tight coverage of veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson early in the second quarter. Purdy squeezed in a pinpoint back-shoulder throw that Aiyuk caught in the right front corner of the end zone.

Purdy had a solid season opener, as he completed 19 of 29 pass attempts for 220 yards with two touchdown passes and no interceptions thrown. It was Purdy’s seventh consecutive regular-season game with at least two touchdown passes.

Dominating defensive effort

The Steelers won the toss and wanted their offense on the field at the start of the game.

That decision gave the 49ers’ defense the opportunity to set the tone for the day. And that’s exactly what they did.

Second-year pro Drake Jackson threw Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett for a 10-yard sack on a third-and-5, and the defensive end ultimately finished with three sacks.

And the game was never in much doubt after that.

The Steelers had just one total yard of offense until taking over at their own 5-yard line with 1:35 remaining in the first half.

With 1:16 remaining in the first half, the Steelers moved the chains for the first time when Najee Harris gained 24 yards on a third-and-1 play. Deommodore Lenoir was called for unnecessary roughness to add 15 yards.

The Steelers ended up marching 95 yards and cut the 49ers’ lead to 20-7 on Kenny Pickett’s 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth.

Other than that letdown at the end of the first half, the 49ers’ defense ruled the day while completely overmatching Pickett and the entire Steelers offense. Charvarius Ward intercepted a Pickett pass in the first quarter to lead to a field goal. Talanoa Hufanga had an interception in the fourth quarter.

Moody makes ‘em

Rookie kicker Jake Moody’s status for the season opener was in question for the past two weeks due to a quadriceps strain.

Even before he missed the final preseason game due to the injury, Moody seemed a little unsteady in the 49ers’ first two practice games.

But Moody, whom the 49ers drafted in the third round to replace reliable veteran Robbie Gould, did well in his first regular season game.

Punter Mitch Wishnowsky handled the kickoff chores, but Moody looked to be just fine in pregame warmups while hitting a 58-yard practice kick.

In the game, Moody played a role as the 49ers moved out to a 20-0 lead. He made field-goal attempts of 41, 40 and 32 yards, while also connecting on all three extra points.

The 49ers signed veteran kicker Matthew Wright to the practice squad last week as an insurance policy. The club released Wright on Saturday after Moody was cleared to kick.

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