49ers star tight end George Kittle credits father for his toughness

49ers star tight end George Kittle credits father for his toughness

George Kittle is a different breed. The 49ers'star tight end easily is the most important piece to the 49ers' offense, and it has shown since he returned from ankle and knee injuries. 

Most players wouldn't even be suiting up right now. Again, Kittle is different.

The third-year pro is playing with a bone chip in his ankle he sustained in Week 9 against the Cardinals, and popped a capsule in his knee that same game. He missed just two games, and played every single snap Sunday in the 49ers' 20-17 loss to the Ravens. 

Kittle was told he could play with the injuries as long as he can tolerate the pain. His injuries won't get worse, so for him, it's all about a mindset -- one that runs deep in his family's blood.

“The mindset comes straight from my dad," Kittle told NBC Sports' Peter King. "I think I’ve been catching a football since I could walk. Or actually really crawl, basically. My dad [Iowa captain Bruce Kittle] played at Iowa from 1978 to ‘81 and I kind of followed in his footsteps. His passion for the game just bled into me.

"I just, I can’t really get enough of it any time. It’s too much fun for me. The fact that I get to play football and it’s my job … I wake up every day living my dream."

As long as Kittle can will his way on to a football field, he will suit up and play. His father showed that same passion and toughness in quite the crazy way on New Year's Day, 1982. 

“Part of what came from Dad is toughness," Kittle said. "He tore his ACL during his last season, and in those days, you didn’t do surgery on that. They casted him up for like six weeks. Iowa made the Rose Bowl that year, and he came back for the game and played in that Rose Bowl.

"I mean, if he can do that, I can come back and play with this.”

The 49ers want to keep Kittle healthy and on the field as much as possible. The Pro Bowl tight end had six receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown in his first game back from injury when the 49ers pounded the Packers 37-8 on "Sunday Night Football." He only had two catches for 17 yards on a soaked surface in Baltimore on Sunday, but showed how important he is to the run game with his elite blocking. 

[RELATED: Why Jimmy G believes 49ers will be fine after loss to Ravens]

It's no surprise backup running back Raheem Mostert had a career-day with 146 yards rushing due in part to Kittle's outside blocking. 

Whether he's catching passes or making blocks, Kittle's is the leader of the 49ers' offense. He'll do whatever it takes to be on the field with his unmatched passion for the game, as he has shown in recent weeks. 

NFL playoff picture: Where 49ers stand in NFC after Seahawks' loss

NFL playoff picture: Where 49ers stand in NFC after Seahawks' loss

The 49ers earned a huge road win over the Saints to improve to 11-2, but that wasn't the end of their good news on Sunday.

Hours after San Francisco prevailed 48-46 in New Orleans, the 49ers' temporary place atop the NFC standings was solidified for at least the next week after the Rams defeated the Seahawks 28-12 in Los Angeles. With the loss, Seattle dropped to 10-3 on the season and fell out of the No. 1 overall seed in the conference.

The 49ers' win combined with the Seahawks' loss puts San Francisco in the driver's seat to win the NFC West, but with Seattle holding the tiebreaker, the division might come down to the Week 17 game between the two teams.

However, it is possible for San Francisco to clinch the division title before Week 17. That would require the 49ers to win each of their next two games against the Falcons and Rams -- both at home -- and the Seahawks to lose at least one of their next two. San Francisco would also clinch a first-round bye in that scenario.

Seattle travels to Carolina to face the sliding Panthers in Week 15 before returning home to host the Cardinals in Week 16. The Seahawks rightfully will be favored in each of those games -- just as the 49ers will be in theirs -- but crazier things have happened.

[RELATED: 49ers disappointed with lack of defensive execution in win]

Here's what the NFC playoff picture looks like heading into Giants-Eagles on Monday night:

  1. San Francisco 49ers (11-2)
  2. Green Bay Packers (10-3)
  3. New Orleans Saints (10-3)
  4. Dallas Cowboys (6-7)
  5. Seattle Seahawks (10-3)
  6. Minnesota Vikings (9-4)

George Kittle credits gator-feet necklace for 49ers' win over Saints

George Kittle credits gator-feet necklace for 49ers' win over Saints

49ers fans traveled well to New Orleans for the game against the Saints on Sunday.

But it was a 49ers fan born and raised in The Big Easy that might have had the biggest hand in San Francisco's thrilling 48-46 win.

After the game, All-Pro tight end George Kittle was wearing an unusual necklace at his locker and at his press conference.

The necklace, sent to Kittle by the unidentified fan, was made of gator feet.

Yes, alligator feet.

"He said, 'Bring this to New Orleans with you and they'll protect you,'" Kittle told USA Today's Jori Epstein. "It did me well."

Kittle and the 49ers needed all the help they could get to win a crazy, back-and-forth game in the Superdome.

After the Saints took a one-point lead with 53 seconds left in regulation, it was Kittle's incredible 39-yard catch and run on fourth-and-2 that helped set up Robbie Gould's game-winning 30-yard field goal as time expired.

[RELATED: Kittle fulfills promise to York family]

Kittle finished the game with six catches for 67 yards and one touchdown.

We recommend that Kittle continue to bring the gator-feet necklace with him to the rest of the 49ers games this season.