PITTSBURGH (AP) — Brock Purdy threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns to Brandon Aiyuk in his return from offseason elbow surgery and the San Francisco 49ers drilled the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-7 on Sunday.
Purdy, who went from the last pick in the 2022 draft to entrenched starter in San Francisco after leading the 49ers to the NFC championship game, was crisp while completing 19 of 29 passes, including scoring strikes of 8 and 19 yards to Aiyuk.
Christian McCaffery ran for 151 yards and caught three passes for 17 more for the 49ers (1-0), who looked every bit the dominant force it was down the stretch last season when Purdy took over at quarterback.
Nick Bosa, a handful of days removed from signing the richest contract ever awarded to a defensive player, had two tackles and a quarterback hit. The 49ers didn't need the reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year to wreak his unique brand of havoc to keep the Steelers and second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett in check.
Pickett completed 31 of 46 for 232 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions as the optimism that followed a preseason in which the first-team offense scored a touchdown in each of the five drives Pickett was on the field faded quickly.
Pittsburgh either punted or turned the ball over in each of its first five possessions as the 49ers quickly built a 20-0 lead. Purdy found Aiyuk in the end zone twice, both times with veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson in coverage.
The eight-time Pro Bowler — in his first season in Pittsburgh — said during a podcast this week that he was going to pick off Purdy, the 262nd and final pick in the 2022 draft.
Peterson slipped at the end of San Francisco's first possession, allowing Purdy to find a wide-open Aiyuk in the back of the end zone. Peterson was in perfect position in the second quarter. It didn't matter. Aiyuk hauled in a back-shoulder throw from Purdy even with Peterson draped all over him for a 19-yard score that made it 17-0.
While Purdy cruised, Pickett stumbled. So did the rest of Pittsburgh's offense, which didn't record its initial first down until Najee Harris ran for 24 yards with less than two minutes to go in the opening half. That drive ended with Pickett throwing a 3-yard dart to Pat Freiermuth for a touchdown that briefly cut the deficit to 20-7.
Two plays into the second half McCaffrey darted left, spun around a defender and raced 65 yards down the sideline to restore San Francisco's 20-point advantage.
Pittsburgh never threatened the rest of the way even with linebacker T.J. Watt getting three sacks to break James Harrison's franchise record of 80. Watt reached 81 sacks with a third-quarter takedown of Purdy. Harrison needed 177 games to set the record. Watt surpassed it in just 88.
49ers: LT Trent Williams left in the fourth quarter
Steelers: Longtime DT Cameron Heyward left in the second quarter with a groin injury and did not return. ... WR Diontae Johnson left in the third quarter after tweaking his right hamstring following a 26-yard gain.
49ers: Visit the Los Angeles Rams next Sunday. San Francisco swept the season series last season.
Steelers: Welcome AFC North rival Cleveland on Monday, Sept. 18. The teams split the series last season.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Will Graves, The Associated Press