It was just Brandon Aiyuk’s second NFL game, but he approached it like a veteran.
After what 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called “struggles” for the rookie wide receiver during the first half of Sunday’s 36-9 win over the New York Giants, Aiyuk put together a solid performance, finishing with 101 all-purpose yards and his first NFL touchdown.
“I probably shouldn’t have said that because the struggles are to my own standard and kind of how I am with these guys,” Shanahan said. “Just a couple of plays I want him to do better, but by no means were they bad enough for anyone else to notice.”
Aiyuk couldn’t connect with quarterback Nick Mullens on any of his three first-half targets, and he also carried the ball twice for 12 yards. In the second half, though, Aiyuk caught all five of Mullen’s intended passes, and his third carry of the game resulted in a third-quarter TD that put needed distance between the 49ers and Giants.
Aiyuk goes untouched for his first TD 🚫👆 pic.twitter.com/gPh6yy8kLp— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) September 27, 2020
Shanahan had a talk with Aiyuk at some point during the game, and it clearly made a difference.
“He was a lot more aggressive on some of his routes, even when he didn’t get the ball,” Shanahan explained.
Aiyuk led the 49ers with 70 receiving yards, and credited his focus at practice this past week for his increased involvement in the offense. The first-round draft pick out of Arizona State wasn’t surprised that his name was called throughout the game.
“I felt like I was involved at practice,” Aiyuk said. “You never really know, but you just take every single week and every single day as if you are the focal point of the offense. That’s how you get better, and hopefully, it translates to the game, and you get those targets.”
Aiyuk played 44 snaps in the Week 2 win over the New York Jets after he missed the 49ers’ season-opening loss with a hamstring injury. He was itching to return to the field after getting his “feet wet,” and felt even more confident against the Giants.
“Just got the feeling out of the way of what it would be like out there,” Aiyuk said. “After I got that out of the way, I was excited to get to work this week. It was a fun week.”
Shanahan said Aiyuk’s increased involvement during the second half wasn’t intentional and rather was a result of what he saw from the Giants’ defense. The receiver fixing the details he missed in the first half didn’t hurt, either.
Deebo Samuel is eligible to return from injured reserve for the 49ers’ Week 4 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. If Samuel and Aiyuk are at full strength on the field, the combinations that Shanahan might come up with could be staggering.