The 49ers’ defense played lights-out football on Monday night in San Francisco, and the injured Ben Roethlisberger struggled to get anything going, as the Steelers fell to the 49ers 20-3.
The question before the game was whether Roethlisberger would be able to start for the Steelers on his injured ankle. He decided to tough it out even though he was clearly at less than 100 percent, and he threw the ball well at times, passing for 330 yards. But he also had four costly turnovers: Two interceptions dug an early hole for the Steelers, a fourth-quarter fumble led to a 49ers touchdown with nine minutes left in the game, and Roethlisberger’s third interception late in the fourth quarter sealed the loss.
That 49ers’ touchdown after Roethlisberger’s fumble was aided by a highly questionable Steelers penalty — Pittsburgh’s defense initially held the 49ers to a field goal on the drive, but the Steelers were called for unsportsmanlike conduct for leaping in an attempt to block the kick. Replays didn’t appear to support that call, and the 49ers took advantage by scoring a touchdown following the penalty. Just as it wasn’t a good night for Roethlisberger, it wasn’t a good night for the officials.
Aside from the masterful job the 49ers’ defense did on Roethlisberger and the Steelers, the story of the game was the power outage. Kickoff was delayed the first time the lights went out, and a second power outage during the game caused a second lengthy delay. There was some talk that the game would have to be halted until it could be concluded in daylight on Tuesday, but the NFL said it would only take that step if the lack of electricity became a safety issue, and the situation never reached that point.
For the Steelers, the loss represents a huge missed opportunity: When the Ravens and Texans both lost on Sunday, it thrust the Steelers into a position where all they had to do was win their remaining three games to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. But tonight’s loss to the 49ers drops the Steelers back behind the Ravens in the AFC North, and now the Steelers appear to be a wild card team, likely headed for a date in Denver in the first round of the playoffs.
For the 49ers, the game was a powerful statement that they’re for real. If there was any doubt before, there’s no doubt now that San Francisco can beat good teams in big games. That’s just what the 49ers did on Monday night.