Brandon Aiyuk’s big game against the Buccaneers wasn’t a breakout.
It was a culmination. It was a celebration.
It was a reminder that on a team chock full of superstar players, Aiyuk, the forgotten star, is as good — and as important — as anyone.
In Sunday’s 27-14 win, he was the centerpiece of a 49ers passing attack that worked over Tampa Bay. The Niners receiver had the most prolific performance of any receiver in the NFL on Sunday by catching five passes for a career-high 156 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown was a 76-yard beauty from Brock Purdy, who said after the game that Aiyuk “deserves it, man.”
“We’ve been wanting to get a deep one for him for a while, so [it] felt good.”
And while Aiyuk is no charity case, it’s understandable that there was extra love for the receiver after the game.
He’s having an absolutely monster year, but it hasn’t translated into touchdowns. Sunday was only his fourth score of the season, and just his second since Week 2.
But while Aiyuk had not scored on a deep touchdown all season before Sunday, he has been the Niners’ big-play threat this season.
On pace to easily surpass last season’s impressive 1,085-yard campaign, Aiyuk is averaging 19.3 yards per catch this season, most among all players with at least 25 receptions — and 2.7 yards more than No. 2 on the list.
PURDY TO AIYUK. 76-YARD TOUCHDOWN.
— NFL (@NFL) November 19, 2023
Aiyuk has been so prolific, he’s been good for 13-plus yards every time he’s been targeted this season. That’s two yards more than the NFL’s leading receiver, Tyreek Hill, who is on pace to post the league’s first 2,000-yard receiving season.
Suffice it to say that Aiyuk is having a monster year. It’s not just a Pro Bowl-caliber campaign; it could be an All-Pro-worthy season.
It snuck up on you, right?
Now you know how opposing defenses feel.
But Sunday was the perfect encapsulation of Aiyuk’s campaign: Of his five catches, the shortest reception went for 10 yards.
Aiyuk, 25, has certainly come a long way from the player in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse early in his career, a storyline that got plenty of run on local airwaves.
“I was a little confused [about that],” Shanahan said. “He was never in anyone’s doghouse. We were just coaching him.”
Aiyuk took to that coaching and has improved year after year, all while dutifully performing the blocking duties Shanahan demands of his receivers.
“When you’re getting better, it doesn’t always show for a receiver because stats and all those results are dependent on a lot of other people,” Shanahan said. “But B.A.’s been playing some good football for a while. It’s really cool when he gets rewarded with those numbers.”
“The last two-and-a-half years, Brandon’s only gotten better every single day,” George Kittle said. “I always talk about my favorite thing is just seeing guys take advantage of their opportunity… He’s a fantastic football player, he runs routes the right way, he has the right mindset every single day, so I’m very happy for him and very happy for the 49ers.”
Against man, zone, or some unholy combination of both coverages, Aiyuk is winning this season.
And with Kittle re-establishing himself as a preeminent pass-catching tight end, and Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey demanding the defense’s full attention, you should expect Aiyuk to keep winning down the stretch.
This is a player at the peak of his powers. One thing he can work on, though, is his touchdown dance.
Whatever he did Sunday was anything but elite. As he stood in the end zone, all by himself, he shimmied, shook, raised his arms, and then gave up on whatever he was doing.
I guess he used up all his moves on cornerbacks.
“I haven’t seen it yet,” Aiyuk told reporters after the game. “That’s the longest touchdown of my career, so I didn’t know what to do.”