SANTA CLARA -- Tight end Ross Dwelley cannot replace George Kittle in the 49ers’ offense, but he came up with some huge plays in the 49ers’ 36-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
While Kittle missed his second consecutive game with knee and ankle injuries, Dwelley stepped up with four catches for 14 yards. His statistics were not prolific, but they were important contributions in San Francisco's ninth victory in 10 games this season.
The 49ers were trailing 16-0 in the first half before Dwelley caught touchdown passes of four and five yards from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Those were the first two touchdown catches of his NFL career.
Then, he had a huge first-down pickup on a third-and-3 play late in the fourth quarter to set up the Garoppolo-to-Jeff Wilson pass that provided the winning points in the closing minute.
Kittle spoke in the locker room after the game on the condition that he only be asked questions about Dwelley, who has started six consecutive games for the 49ers due to injuries to fullback Kyle Juszczyk and, now, Kittle.
“I don’t think anyone really saw that coming when he first got here and the strides he’s taken in these last two years is incredible,” Kittle said of Dwelley, who came to the 49ers last season as an undrafted rookie from the University of San Diego.
“A lot of that is on our coaching staff and tight ends coach [Jon Embree], but a lot of that is on Ross and the time he spends in here getting his body right and mentally. He’s just doing such a great job for this team.”
Kittle compared Dwelley's ascendance to the way quarterback Nick Mullens stepped in last season when he was needed after injuries to Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard. Kittle said he has not had to spend a lot of one-on-one time with Dwelley during the time he has taken over as the starting tight end because Dwelley is on top of things.
“Fortunately, a guy like Ross doesn’t really need a lot of help,” Kittle said. “He’s been preparing to play. He prepares every game like he’s going to start, and he’s going to play every single rep, so he just hopped in, pretty similar to Nick last year.
“He just hops in, and he’s ready to go, and there’s not a lot of, ‘Hey, get your toes wet.’ He’s just out there going full speed, and that’s what you want out of the guy.”
The 49ers hope to get Kittle's services back next week for the team’s Sunday night game against the Green Bay Packers. Kittle leads the 49ers with 46 receptions for 541 yards and two touchdowns in seven games.
Dwelley has 14 catches on the season for 66 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a clutch third-down conversion two weeks ago that helped the 49ers clinch their Week 9 victory over the Cardinals.