SANTA CLARA — George Kittle’s 63rd regular-season game got him and the 49ers’ all-time tight ends something new: an NFC Offensive Player of the Week award.
Kittle’s 13-catch, 151-yard output Sunday night kept alive the 49ers’ 26-23 overtime win over the host Cincinnati Bengals.
The five-year veteran earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2019 and ’20, but had never won the weekly honor prior to this week.
In fact, no tight end in 49ers history had won the weekly award that dates to 1984. It’s decided upon by the league’s public relations department, and it comes with no financial benefit or commemorative certificate.
Wednesday, Kittle stretched with the team, caught warm-up passes by the quarterbacks, then got practice off, because of what coach Kyle Shanahan called knee soreness. Kittle looked understandably sore and could use the rest, for not only the upcoming Sunday game against Atlanta but the quick turnaround for a Dec. 23 visit to Tennessee.
Kittle played through his leg issues Sunday, and he did so on an artificial surface he compared to cement. “When you have catches and tackles, you get sore,” Kittle said after the game. “Nothing to worry about, just excessive soreness, I would say.”
After the 49ers’ 14-point, fourth-quarter lead evaporated, Kittle put the 49ers in position to win, twice. An acrobatic, 19-yard catch at the Bengals’ 29-yard line set up Robbie Gould for a field-goal attempt that he’d miss wide right as regulation expired. On the overtime drive, Kittle made catches of 8, 21 and 9 yards, the final of which provided a third-down conversion on the play before Brandon Aiyuk’s game-winning, 12-yard touchdown catch.
Aiyuk said afterward of Kittle’s overall presence: “It’s big. There are a lot of times where something might not be going your way and it’s frustrating. And here comes George picking you up, talking to you. His ability to stay even-keeled throughout the whole game is something I try to take from him. It’s great to have somebody like that.”
Kittle became the first tight end in NFL history with 150 receiving yards and a touchdown catch in consecutive games, having produced 181 yards (nine catches) and a touchdown the previous week in Seattle.
The only other Iowa products to win NFC Offensive Player of the Week were also tight ends: Marv Cook (1991) and Dallas Clark (2009).
MITCHELL STILL NOT CLEARED
Running back Elijah Mitchell remains in the concussion protocol, 10 days after entering it because of symptoms he reported the day after the 49ers’ losing at Seattle. Mitchell, who also has a knee issue, was seen working with a trainer at the start of practice, which is a positive sign after not being seen last week.
Also being held out of practice were linebackers Fred Warner (ankle), Azeez Al-Shaair (elbow) and Dre Greenlaw (groin); cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (ankle), and defensive tackles D.J. Jones (knee) and Maurice Hurst (calf). Resting were defensive end Nick Bosa, left tackle Trent Williams, and center Alex Mack.
Warner said his ankle swelled up after Sunday’s win but that he’s doing great. He and Jones stretched with the team then did individual conditioning, which is also where Al-Shaair was relegated with braces on both his elbows.
Cleared for limited work was rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas, who exited Sunday’s game with a head injury. Also limited is safety Jaquiski Tartt (knee). Cornerback Dontae Johnson is expected to rejoin the team this week after his mother’s death Sunday.
#49ers practice observations
Deebo looks full-go for first Wednesday session b4 groin
Kittle, Warner, Jones stretch & do light work before sitting out drills, look OK
Mitchell (concussion, knee) work w/trainer; not seen last week
Al-Shaair on side, both elbows braced pic.twitter.com/I8bS6rOQsc
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) December 15, 2021
While teams around the league are putting multiple players on the COVID reserve list, the 49ers have yet to do so since training camp, and coach Kyle Shanahan said all but one player is vaccinated. Shanahan said he’s yet to receive a booster shot but is willing to do so.
How have the players navigated COVID so successfully, to this point?
“A little bit of luck,” Jimmy Garoppolo responded. “It’s really about putting the team first when you’re away from the facility. All things do come back to bite you in the back end. Guys realize the opportunity we have. Things are getting pretty serious now. When we’re all on the same page like this, it’s a good thing.”
Speaking of health, Garoppolo offered this when asked for an early, New Year’s resolution: “Hoping to get through this year, first. Hopefully have a happy, healthy year. That’s so cliché, I’m sorry.”
AIYUK FOCUSED ON FALCONS
Aiyuk has quickly turned his focus from a Cincinnati pylon to the incoming Atlanta Falcons, who visit the 49ers on Sunday in the penultimate game at Levi’s Stadium this season.
“We’re very aware of our (playoff) picture,” Aiyuk said Wednesday morning on KNBR 680-AM. “It’s December, mid-December. This is all you could ask for at this point in the season.
“We have to put that (overtime win) behind us and focus on this week and play as best we can at home.”
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) December 15, 2021
Aiyuk has produced 32 receptions for 453 yards and three touchdowns the past seven games, quite the turnaround from a six-game start that included nine receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Aiyuk credited his conversations with Shanahan and Garoppolo for telling him things “in a way I hadn’t heard it before. … I was glad to actually hear it and able to understand what they’re seeing and thinking, because we were thinking completely different.”
Aiyuk said that communication with Garoppolo is now paying off. As for how rookie quarterback Trey Lance is developing, Aiyuk said: “Whenever we’re talking to Jimmy, he’s right there. We see him all time, even if he’s not getting reps. We’re watching film and talking to him. He throws a beautiful football, (with) a little mustard on it.”
MEXICO, UK MARKETS
The 49ers’ marketing arms can ramp up in Mexico and the United Kingdom, markets assigned to the 49ers as part of the NFL’s International Home Marketing Areas. The 49ers have not played internationally since a 2013 win in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2005, the 49ers lost in Mexico City to the Arizona Cardinals before 103,467 fans.
Shanahan on a potential return trip to Mexico: “I’d be all for it. I love Mexico. I love going there. It does seem they have a bunch of diehard 49ers fans there. … I haven’t been to Mexico City much. I’d rather play here. It’s definitely closer and I’m more familiar with it than London.”
Every NFL team will play an international game in the next eight seasons.