The play came on a third-and-5 situation from the 9-yard line, after the 49ers had sputtered in the red zone on their opening drive, taking a field goal. It looked like they might settle for three again.
Instead, quarterback Brock Purdy found rookie Ronnie Bell on an out pattern a step into the end zone and, Bell managed to secure the ball while getting his feet down for the touchdown. It was the first catch of his NFL career for Bell, a seventh-round pick from Michigan. And it was a go-ahead touchdown.
For Bell, the play was reminiscent of his time in Ann Arbor. “My first college one was a touchdown too,” he said after the game. “So, I mean I love that. Just looking for many more. That’s right.”
After the play, Bell was overwhelmed on the sideline at Levi’s Stadium.
“I was more just crunk on the sideline,” Bell said. “I mean, yeah, like you kind of take it all in, but I was just really excited, you know what I mean? To get that opportunity, to get that chance.”
Ronnie Bell Nearly Did Not Play Football
Bell was a budding star for the Wolverines in 2021 when he injured his ACL and required surgery. He only played one game, then returned last year to go for 62 catches and 889 yards, with four touchdowns (and another one rushing). The 49ers took a chance on him in the seventh round of last spring’s draft.
And he nearly did not play football at all—Bell was committed to Missouri State for basketball back in 2017, though football was his true love. But his basketball career got more notice, so he was listed as the No. 1,476 prospect nationally by 24/7 Sports. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh heard about Bell through a friend, though, and took a chance on him.
Bell’s career has always been tinged with a bit of good fortune.
“I’m just blessed and always ready,” he said. “I kind of feel like the position I was put in being drafted seventh round is a position that I have found myself in multiple times throughout this football journey. So, it isn’t anything I wasn’t used to and I just feel really blessed to have a healthy and good summer in camp. I just to get the opportunity, I’m forever thankful.”
Kyle Shanahan ‘Real Happy’ With Bell
On Thursday, the Niners reaped the benefits of Bell’s hard work. With star wideout Brandon Aiyuk out, Bell was targeted twice, and made two catches for 24 yards.
Shanahan said there was hope on Wednesday evening that Aiyuk would play on Thursday, but when Aiyuk woke up that morning, the pain in his shoulder persisted. But Bell was ready, and Shanahan was not surprised.
“We’ve been real happy with Ronnie,” coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game. “Thought he was ready for the moment. I thought it was a challenge for him just on a short week getting all the game plan together, especially his first time going through that. But I’ll see when I see the tape, but I thought he’d stepped it up and played real well.”