49ers' Dante Pettis redeems himself with game-winning TD vs. Steelers

49ers' Dante Pettis redeems himself with game-winning TD vs. Steelers

SANTA CLARA -- Wide receiver Dante Pettis worked his way back into the good graces of 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan during practices the past two weeks.

And if there was still any question about his status with the coaching staff, Pettis’ touchdown catch in traffic on Sunday made it official. His clutch grab provided Shanahan with one of his more emotional and fulfilling victories.

“I really wasn’t thinking anything,” Pettis said following the 49ers' 24-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. “When you’re in that moment, you just lock into the play, try to focus on the ball -- and that’s about it.”

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo looked for Pettis and showed confidence in threading the ball between two defenders for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 1:20 remaining in the fourth quarter for the winning points at Levi’s Stadium.

Said Garoppolo, "Dante is phenomenal in practice. I know you guys aren't seeing all that but he battles his ass off in practice. He has a great mindset of just when his number is called, he's ready. So you got to appreciate a guy like that. It's just having all that competitiveness and everything. You love to see that as a quarterback because you can trust that guy."

“He’s just gotten better each week,” Shanahan said, as the 49ers improved to 3-0 for the first time since 1998.

“We all know how he finished last year. He had a few bumps in the road throughout training camp. It’s been well-documented and talked about. I’ve been extremely impressed with how he responded since the first week of the season. He’s taken the challenge, been working as hard as anyone on the team.”

Shanahan said Pettis had a good week of practice in Youngstown, Ohio, before the Week 2 game at Cincinnati. But Pettis was held without a reception against the Bengals. On Sunday, he caught four passes for 20 yards against Pittsburgh, but also had a catchable pass deflect off his hands for a first-half interception.

When the 49ers needed a touchdown to avoid what could have been a disheartening, brutal loss, Shanahan and Garoppolo dialed Pettis’ number.

“It was good,” Pettis said. “There have obviously been a bunch of ups and downs. I know that’s part of sports. I’ve been around professional sports my whole life. I know what happens. You’re not just going to frickin’ be good every single day.

“Just being able to fight through that ... now I know what it’s like to go through that, it’s like, I know I can really do this thing. I know I’m here for a reason.”

Pettis, the son of former major league baseball player Gary Pettis, finished his rookie season strong and appeared to be a lock to be a starting wide receiver this season. But Pettis struggled in training camp this summer, and played just two snaps in the team’s Week 1 win at Tampa Bay.

Pettis, whose lack of urgency and aggression appeared to leave Shanahan frustrated, made the play to secure the contested pass and enabled the 49ers to pull off the emotional victory against the Steelers.

“It’s huge,” 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “For Jimmy, for Kyle, to have that confidence to go to him when the game’s on the line, means everything. And for him to come up with it -- and that was not an easy catch. There were guys all over him, but (I’m) extremely proud of the way he responded. I didn’t want to stop celebrating with him out there.”

Garoppolo showed no hesitancy in going back to Pettis and trusting him to make the play that would rescue the 49ers’ offense from a five-giveaway day.

“It’s not really surprising to me that he threw it to me,” Pettis said. “It’s just Jimmy, he’s going to make a good decision and throw the ball where it needs to go. And he just made a good throw right there.”

[RELATED: Watch Jimmy G's game-winning TD pass to Pettis vs. Steelers]

The play -- and the support he received from his teammates -- clearly meant a lot to Pettis, a second-round draft pick in 2018.

“I think we have a pretty special team,” he said. “Everybody has each other’s back. When someone’s down a little bit, people are going to let them know, ‘Hey, we’re behind you. We know what you can do.' I never felt like anybody was looking at me like, 'this guy needs to step it up' or whatever.”

49ers' Kendrick Bourne, NFL stars not fans of league's escrow proposal

49ers' Kendrick Bourne, NFL stars not fans of league's escrow proposal

With each passing day, the concerns over the coronavirus grow.

For the sports world, that means uncertainty. Will the games be played as scheduled? Will there be fans in the stands? What will revenue look like?

On Tuesday, the NFL reportedly made a financial proposal to the Players Association, and it didn't sit well with the latter group.

NFL Media's Tom Pelissero reported, citing sources, that the NFLPA told its board of representatives that the league is proposing to put 35 percent of players' 2020 salary into an escrow account.

Pelissero relayed a response from an NFLPA executive Don Davis.

As you can imagine, the idea of not getting their full salaries didn't sit well with the players, including 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne.

Raiders right tackle Trent Brown weighed in.

Several other NFL stars, including newly minted $503 million-man Patrick Mahomes, shared the same reaction.

The NFL reportedly wants to cut the preseason from four games to two games, and the NFLPA later voted that no preseason games be played.

It's clear the two sides have a lot to work out before training camps open later this month.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

49ers' George Kittle voted top NFL tight end over Chiefs' Travis Kelce

49ers' George Kittle voted top NFL tight end over Chiefs' Travis Kelce

Who's the best tight end in the NFL?

While many feel strongly on the subject, there really are only two acceptable answers. You can bicker back and forth as to who is superior between 49ers tight end George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, but they're clearly in a tier unto themselves.

If you're partial to the intricacies of route-running, Kelce might be your choice. If you like a bruiser who contributes in all aspects of the offense, Kittle surely is your guy.

If there is a separation between the two, it's by hairs. Don't take my word for it. More than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players recently voted on the top 10 players at 11 different positions for the upcoming 2020 season, and the top two tight ends were separated by the slimmest margin of any position group.

To the delight of 49ers fans, and the ire of those of the Chiefs, Kittle came out on top. Just barely.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

After the first round of votes, ESPN's Jeremey Fowler reported Kittle and Kelce sat at a dead-even split. Additional voting and follow-up calls were required, which ultimately tilted the result in Kittle's favor.

Just like Kelce, Kittle was ranked as high as No. 1 at the position, but no lower than No. 3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski was the only other player to receive a first-place vote, but last I checked it's 2020 and not 2015.

"Consecutive 1,000-yard seasons make Kittle a top contender, but his blocking and intensity helped earn him nearly half the first-place votes," Fowler wrote. "Where Kittle beats everyone is at the line of scrimmage and with the ball in his hands, as he forced a league-high 20 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus."

The voters were full of compliments for Kelce, but Kittle's mentality, leadership and scheme flexibility proved to be the tie-breakers.

"Be on the field, and see how he elevates the play of everyone in the offense. It's tangible," one NFC coordinator said. "He lifts everyone up."

"The passion on tape is unmatched," an AFC executive explained. "He's got that dog in him. More competitive than Kelce."

"Unreal passion, energy, toughness, blocking," said another executive.

[RELATED: Mahomes contract could put pressure on 49ers signing Kittle]

Kittle might have won the vote, but last time he and Kelce were on the same field, the Chiefs tight end got the better of him, both in the box score and in the Lombardi Trophy department. Of course, if Kittle isn't called for that questionable-at-best offensive pass interference penalty, it might be a completely different story.

In any case, there's no shame in Kelce being ranked below Kittle, nor would there be if it was the other way around. They're both extremely special players, and it's not a coincidence that their teams arguably are the two best in the NFL.