SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) — There have been iconic plays that have defined the Bay Area’s sports decade.
A Barry Bonds towering home run, a 3-point bomb from Steph Curry, Madison Bumgarner’s confident strut from the bullpen in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series and now George Kittle’s bullish run down the sidelines in Sunday’s 49ers win over New Orleans.
With the game hanging in the balance on 4th-and-2 with the clock ticking down, the 49ers were on their own 33-yard-line. It appeared they were destined for their third close loss of the season in the 46-45 contest against the 10-2 Saints.
Then the team turned to Kittle and his never say die attitude.
“It was a ‘choice’ route,” Kittle explained of the pivotal play. “It was man (coverage), he (the Saints defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson) was sitting inside, I get a choice of going in or out. Emmanuel (Sanders) and KB (Kendrick Bourne) basically have ‘Go’ routes to clear it out for me. He (Gardner-Johnson) was sitting hard inside so it was pretty easy decision for me. Break out and Jimmy (Garoppolo) gave me a good ball and let me run with it.”
“Run with it” is an understatement.
What Kittle did after the catch elevated the play into 49er lore. He shook free from Gardner-Johnson and raced up the sideline. New Orleans safety Marcus Williams attempted to stop him, holding onto his face mask as Kittle carried him down the sideline. It was a mano-a-mano fight, neither player refusing to yield.
For nearly 15 yards, Kittle battled with Williams, who continued to yank on his mask. Finally two other Saints joined in to bring Kittle to the turf. The play covered 39 yards plus an additional 15-yard facemask penalty and set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal as time ran out.
“22 (Gardner-Johnson) did a great job on me all day,” Kittle said. “It was really fun to go against him. We had some good battles. I got him at the end though.”
Kittle’s physical playing style has been a source of inspiration for his teammates all season as the 49ers have evolved into the best team in the NFC with an 11-2 record.
“It’s really fun, especially when you have a little bit of space,” he said. “My tight end coach always says don’t let one guy tackle you. That’s my mindset, just try to run through them. Try to carry them (the defenders) as far as I can.”
“My mindset is to run though people, but have a good time doing it,” he added.
Sunday was no different, just ask running back Matt Breida
“That was some grown man stuff,” Brieda told Yahoo Sports. “To me, he’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. For him to carry those guys on the field to get us in field-goal range was amazing.”
Kittle’s impact was also not lost on his coach.
“He means a ton,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Everyone knows how great a player he is, but when one of your best players has the mentality he has that changes everything. I always say that O (offensive) linemen don’t have a choice. They’ve got to be tough…But the mentality of your offense — how tough a team you are — has to do with your skill positions.”