It's hard to draw positives from the San Francisco 49ers 27-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 12. But there were two interesting developments within the 49ers offense. The first was Dante Pettis' best game as a pro, and the second was Jeff Wilson Jr.'s impressive NFL debut.
Let's start with Pettis, who caught 4-of-7 targets for a career high 77 yards and his second career touchdown. The production was much needed in the absence of Pierre Garçon (knee) and Marquise Goodwin (personal). Pettis caught a touchdown in his debut in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings but had been quiet since. He missed three games with a knee injury and is just finally getting back to full strength.
Pettis has 13 targets over the team's last two games and four receptions in each contest. He turned his four catches into just 12 yards against the New York Giants in Week 10. However, on Sunday we saw flashes of the dynamic traits that made Pettis such a heralded playmaker in college at Washington. The 49ers traded up to grab Pettis in the second round, and the rookie wideout dazzled on a daily basis during training camp. His slow start through the first half of 2018 had fans antsy to see him perform well in a game environment. That's what made his showing against the Bucs even more impactful.
"I thought Pettis took a step in the right direction," Kyle Shanahan said on Monday. "I think everyone struggled (against the Bucs), but I will say I thought Pettis played better than he has probably since Minnesota, Week 1. I think I told you guys the last time we talked that I thought he had a good game versus Minnesota and then he kind of battled injures for a while and missed a month. He hasn't totally come back yet. I thought this week was his best week yet. Not to get confused with great, but I thought it was his best week, and I hope he continues to do that each week for the next five weeks."
On Pettis' touchdown, a 13-yarder in the second quarter, he showcased his patented wiggle at the line of scrimmage and gave his corner in coverage an outside move to create easy separation. Pettis then made the safety miss in the open field on his way into the end zone.
"It's always nice to play more and be able to feel the game out a little more instead of going in and out the whole time," Pettis said of his increased role. "You get into a little bit of a groove."
As for Wilson, the 49ers promoted the rookie running back from the team's practice squad on Saturday before the game and served as Matt Breida's primary backup against the Bucs. Wilson's play in practice is what warranted the call-up to the active roster. He showed well in his NFL debut, running for 33 yards on seven carries (4.7 average) and added one catch for eight yards.
Wilson nearly had a touchdown as well. He was initially credited with a 9-yard touchdown run before a review revealed that his knee touched down just before the ball crossed the goal line.
"We came back from the bye week, (and he) had a great week of practice last week," Shanahan said. "It was nothing against Alfred (Morris). We just wanted to give Jeff the opportunity, and he did a really good job with his opportunity."
Wilson's parents flew in from Texas Sunday morning and were in attendance, making for a special day for the running back and his family.
"(The opportunity) means a lot to me and my family," Wilson said postgame. "I'm thankful for every coach that's on this staff and every player on this team. I feel like it's my duty to give them all I've got."
The final five weeks of the season will be crucial for players to prove that they're a part of the team's ongoing rebuild. Pettis and Wilson should continue to see ample opportunity to do just that.