SANTA CLARA — The 49ers defense came to the rescue again as the offense coughed up the ball five times in the team’s 24-20 win over the Steelers.
When an offense gives the ball up five times in a game, it could cause their defense to groan, “Not this again," but that is not the case for the 49ers. In fact, several members of the defense like the challenge of carrying the game on their shoulders.
Linebacker Kwon Alexander is never lacking energy and that was the case each time he and the defense went back onto the field in the team’s home opener. When asked if the mood on the sideline ever wavered as the offense struggled, Alexander claimed that it provoked the exact opposite reaction.
“Did you see us when we were out there on the field?” Alexander said. “It doesn’t matter. No, that’s our mindset. Wherever we’re at on the field, we’re going to do our thing. It doesn’t matter if we’re on the 2-yard line, or if the ball’s put on the 2-yard line. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to go out there and just play hard, and finish the game.”
The new attitude of the defense is partly because of additions like Alexander to the group. They have a confidence that is backed up by their ability to shut down an offense. Twice in the first quarter they held the Steelers offense to a field goal when they had started with excellent field position.
By the end of the first half, the 49ers defense had limited the Steelers offense to 76 total yards and six points. Their own offense had put them at a disadvantage having already turned over the ball three times.
DeForest Buckner addressed how the group responded to their chance to carry the game.
“Yeah, everybody, the defense, man, I’m proud of every single one of them,” Buckner said. “Nobody shied away from the challenge. We love that. It’s more of an opportunity for us as a defense to get better, to show what we can do. It just shows the hard work that we put in on the offseason altogether and it’s coming to fruition.”
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk recognizes the new attitude defense and noted how it takes the stress off of the offense when they happen to catch the turnover bug like they did facing the Steelers.
"Extremely different," Juszczyk said. "There’s just this confidence that they’re going to go make a play. I said to Jimmy on the last drive, ‘This is why we went and got Dee Ford and Nick Bosa. This is the reason right here.’ Those guys went out and made plays. You breathe a little easier on the sideline when you know those guys are out there."
Richard Sherman says the 49ers defense thrives off of challenges like they faced in the team’s home opener. The adversity seems to motivate them even more.
[RELATED: Grades for 49ers' 24-20 win]
“It was probably more enthusiastic when we got the turnovers than it was when we didn’t,” Sherman said. “Like when our offense gave up a turnover and put us in a hard spot, we took it as Murphy’s Law. We took it as Murphy’s Law, and you want to slap Murphy in the face, and we did that today.
“We took Murphy’s Law -- everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. You take it with a smile, and you go out there and persevere, and that’s what we did today as a defense. That’s what our offense did and that’s what our special teams did today. That’s what we did as a full team.”