San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis has been no stranger to scrutiny early in 2019. But his game-winning touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3 provided a much-needed boost.
A year after finishing with one of the best Niners rookie wide receiver campaigns since the days of Hall of Famer Terrell Owens, Pettis’ stock value took a pretty lofty hit during training camp and into the preseason.
One source told Niner Noise Pettis’ efforts in training camp were bad, arguably worse than what was being reported at the time. What is known, however, is Pettis was dealing with plenty of drops and a relative lack of focus, which translated into the receiver seeing plenty of fourth-quarter field time during preseason. And those snaps are typically reserved for practice squad contenders, at best.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan might have been trying to light a proverbial fire under Pettis at that point, sure.
Over the first two weeks of 2019, however, Pettis looked like nothing more than an afterthought. He appeared on just two snaps during San Francisco’s Week 1 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And before the 49ers home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, Pettis’ stat line boasted just one catch for seven yards.
Speaking of the home opener, Pettis certainly earned himself some vindication.
OK, so Pettis’ final line in the Niners’ 24-20 win over the Steelers wasn’t great: four catches for just 20 yards.
Justifiably so, Pettis was fired up after the go-ahead play with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
And by doing so, Pettis might have gotten back in Shanahan’s good graces.
“He’s just gotten better each week,” the head coach told reporters after the game. “We all know how he finished last year. Had a few bumps in the road throughout training camp, which I think has been well documented and I talked about. But, I’ve been extremely impressed with how he’s responded since the first week of the season. He’s taken the challenge. He’s been working as hard as anyone on our team.”
Pettis, too, was understandably happy.
“This is what we work for,” he said. “If you don’t want to be in that moment, if you don’t want the ball right there, you shouldn’t be playing sports. That is kind of what you live for.”
Granted, Pettis’ return to prowess is anything but guaranteed. And his role will be made less certain once the 49ers receive some reinforcements at various times following their Week 4 bye. Third-year wide receiver Trent Taylor (foot) is on short-term injured reserve, while rookie wideout Jalen Hurd is still nursing a back injury.
It’s anyone’s guess how Pettis will fit into Shanahan’s offense once these two return.
But a game winner to propel the 49ers to 3-0 on the young season surely helps Pettis’ case for a more prominent role as the year moves along.