San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers Prove the NFL Preseason Means Very Little

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The NFL preseason means absolutely nothing. Nothing!

I present to you as evidence the San Francisco 49ers thrashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. It was what those using NFL parlance typically refer to as a whipping.

Niners 30.

Steelers 7.

“We always try to get out fast,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “That’s always our goal. And I’m glad that we did it.”

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 07: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium on November 07, 2021 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

49ers Overcome Preseason Troubles

So now we understand why the 49ers are an NFC Super Bowl contender. And the Steelers are a long way from being the AFC North contenders and likely playoff team many believed they would be.

Fact is the Steelers will address stuff. And coach Mike Tomlin, as good as he is, will likely get this team playing well at some point this year.

But to begin the season the Steelers were unmasked as largely unprepared, not nearly as physical as San Francisco and certainly not so in typical Steelers fashion. And quarterback Kenny Pickett is not yet the budding superstar so many thought during the preseason.

So two teams: One already looks elite. One is not anywhere close to expectations.

And that’s the thing about the preseason. It can be a liar.

If you recall, the preseason set sky high expectations for the Steelers. The club finished undefeated and everything seemed to be coming together.

Quarterback Kenny Pickett was great. He actually posted a perfect preseason and folks were predicting a hugh Year 2 leap for the home grown quarterback.

Womp, womp, womp.

Kenny Pickett a tale of two quarterbacks comparing preseason to regular-season opener.

Steelers Preseason Heroes Become Opener Zeroes

Pickett actually improved his statistics in the final 5 minutes — albeit against San Francisco backups and a prevent defense — to finish with 232 yards and a rating of 68.4.

Still bad all around.

And that’s a terrible disappointment following what the Steelers expected after the preseason.

“You guys watched the preseason and we started fast in all three phases of the game,” Pittsburgh defensive end T.J. Watt said. “Today was definitely not like that.”

Contrast that with the 49ers who looked like the team that made it to the NFC Championship game last season and simply picked up where they left off. Only better.

The 49ers got great play from, well, practically everyone.

Quarterback Brock Purdy very good, throwing two touchdowns without a turnover.

“He doesn’t set super deep in the pocket, he gets the ball out relatively quick,” Watt said. “He gets the ball in the hands of his playmakers and credit to him for that.

“I thought he did a great job…He executed better than we did.”

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – SEPTEMBER 10: Christian McCaffrey #23 of the San Francisco 49ers runs the ball against Elandon Roberts #50 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half of a game at Acrisure Stadium on September 10, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Christian McCaffrey, 49ers Gash Steelers

Running back Christian McCaffrey was outstanding. So was a San Francisco running game that gained 188 yards.

Defensive Nick Bosa good, all things considered.

And the offensive line and the defensive front were both dominant.

Purdy’s TD passes went to Brandon Aiyuk for 8 and 19 yards.

McCaffrey gained 162 yards and scored on a 65-yard run. Yes, fantasy owners, he also caught three passes for 17 yards.

His 65-yard run took a long time as he set up great blocking downfield, but the TD run was impressive all-around. McCaffrey broke into the open and then waited for his blockers downfield to sweep away the Steelers defenders.

“I think it was very instinctual,” McCaffrey said. “There’s times you have to press on the gas and there’s times you have to be patient and let it all come to you.”

And then a warning: “We could have done better. Each play has a life of its own, each game has a life of it’s own. For us, it’s about getting better each week. We think we can.”

Bosa was generally a nuance for the Steelers while defensive line mate Drake Jackson collected three of five sacks.

All this from a team that at times seemed to be reeling this preseason.

Niners Had A Bumpy Preseason

You must recall that the 49ers had Purdy on something of a pitch count on passes he could throw during the week as recently as the start of September. This after he underwent offseason surgery to repair the UCL injury in this throwing elbow.

This is a team that spent the later part of the preseason addressing the Trey Lance saga. That lasted until Lance was traded to the Dallas Cowboys — a former No. 3 overall selection for a fourth-round pick.

And the Niners are also a team that spent the entire offseason, training camp and preseason trying to get Bosa signed to a new contract. They didn’t see their star defensive end and 2022 NFL defensive player of the year at all since camp opened.

The record deal between Bosa and the 49ers wasn’t done until Sept. 6. As late as Friday the 49ers were still debating how much Bosa would play against the Steelers.

And against that preseason backdrop, San Francisco dominated from the beginning.

San Francisco at one point in the first half had 20 points. And the Steelers had zero first downs. Steelers fans in Pittsburgh were actually booing their team.

ORCHARD PARK, NY – SEPTEMBER 12: T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches the ball during a game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Steelers Have Had Better Days

The Steelers did manage a touchdown late in the half to give themselves hope.

“It was 28 minutes of good football and about 2 minutes of bad football,” Shanahan said. “But then we came out in the second half and scored on our first possession.”

“They didn’t make the plays today but that team will be there in the end,” Shanahan added.

Maybe. But they weren’t there in the second half, either. The 49ers scored another touchdown their first possession of the second half, giving up 75 yards on two plays, including McCaffrey’s long run.

“Not acceptable at all,” Watt said. “It’s a matter of starting fast in the first half but also coming out in the second half and going as hard as we can to get the offense the ball back which we weren’t able to do.”

Maybe next week. Or else, because the regular season has begun.

Follow on X: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

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