The San Francisco 49ers upended the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3 despite turning the ball over five teams, showing why ugly games can now go the Niners’ way — something they haven’t been able to say the last two years.
If the year was 2017 or 2018, the San Francisco 49ers wouldn’t have been able to pull off the kind of win they enjoyed over the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3.
The box score tells a lot about what you need to know. The Niners came away with a 24-20 victory in their home opener over the still-winless Steelers on Sunday despite turning the ball over five times.
It’s almost a universal rule: If a team turns the ball over five-plus times in a game, it almost always loses. Can anyone get Elias Sports Bureau on that one to see what the winning percentages are in such a case?
In fact the 2017 or 2018 Niners would probably be 1-2 at this point in the season, if the game situations this year were the same. In Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco managed just 256 yards of total offense and turned the ball over twice. On Sunday, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tossed two interceptions, which weren’t entirely his fault, and the offense coughed up three fumbles.
But in both cases, the 49ers defense was able to bail out the offense. San Francisco held Pittsburgh to 241 total yards during the game. And while four of those five turnovers came in the first half, the Steelers were still only able to gain a lowly 76 yards during the first two quarters.
The Niners wouldn’t have been able to win games like these the last two years. In fact, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s 2017 49ers set an NFL record for such narrow losses over a stretch early that particular season.
And Sunday’s contest reminded Shanahan of another similar game last year, too.
“It reminded me a lot of the Arizona game we had last year,” Shanahan told reporters after the game. “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, so it looked like we were going down that same (road), but the defense, they stepped it up big.”
Shanahan was referring to San Francisco’s 2017 Week 5 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, where his team managed nearly 450 yards to the Cardinals’ 220. The 49ers had 33 first downs in the game, while Arizona had only 10.
And yet the Niners, after committing five turnovers, went on to lose the game 28-18.
This year is different, though. The 49ers have closers, especially on defense, which did its part to bail out the offense throughout Sunday’s contest.
San Francisco’s offense managed to bounce back enough, too, recapturing the lead with less than two minutes remaining on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Garoppolo to wide receiver Dante Pettis.
“Everyone knows how well Cincinnati went, but the game today and the game in Tampa, those are games that we have not been able to win here,” Shanahan continued. “And, to have two games like that where things don’t go perfect, says a lot about the character of the guys in there.”
Simply put, the 49ers are now winning games they were unable to win a year or two ago.
And the league will start to take note.