49ers

George Kittle fulfills promise to Yorks with 49ers' win over Saints

George Kittle fulfills promise to Yorks with 49ers' win over Saints

NEW ORLEANS – Following the loss last week to the Baltimore Ravens, 49ers tight end George Kittle sought out CEO Jed York to make an emotional promise.

“I was talking to Kittle last week,” York told NBC Sports Bay Area, “and he was with his parents at the end of the game, and he said, ‘We got it next week.’”

Kittle knew this would be an difficult week for the York family. One year ago on Saturday, Jed York’s brother, Tony York, died at the age of 35. The 49ers took the field on Sunday in New Orleans with “TY” helmet decals.

And when his team needed a big play on a fourth-and-2 in the final minute, of course, it was Kittle who came through with the reception of the game to help propel the 49ers to a riveting 48-46 victory over the Saints.

“And watching him on that play was just huge,” Jed York said.

Kittle made the catch of a Jimmy Garoppolo pass, picked up the first down – and was not satisfied until he got a heck of a lot more. Kittle’s 39-yard reception included 31 yards after the catch. Then, the 49ers picked up an additional 15 yards when New Orleans safety Marcus Williams was called for a facemask penalty as he did all he could to try to tackle Kittle.

The play put the 49ers in position for Robbie Gould’s 30-yard field goal as time expired for the winning points.

A year ago, the 49ers had an emotional victory over the New York Giants at Levi’s Stadium just two days after Tony York’s death. Jed York spoke passionately to the team after that game.

On Sunday, Jed York was too emotional to speak to the victorious 49ers' locker room. Team co-chair Dr. John York addressed the team following the victory over the Saints, which took place just a few miles from where Tony attended college at Tulane University.

“It was an emotional beginning of the week, and I tried to get that out,” Jed York said. “My brother liked to party and have fun and celebrate. So you had to celebrate.

“Tony was just cool. He’d be smiling, probably have a hurricane. That’s Tony.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan presented members of the York family, including twin sisters Jenna and Mara, with game balls after the victory over the Saints. Kittle relished his role in bringing the victory to the family, and helping team improve to 11-2 on the season.

“We were going to do everything we could,” said Kittle, who caught six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. “We know he’s watching over us. We’re just going to do everything we can to get this ‘W’ for their family. What they do for us as a team is incredible. They spare no expense. They just want us to be as successful as we can. I couldn’t ask for a better owner.

“There was a lot of emotion. Usually, the family is down on Fridays and Saturdays. We didn’t get to see them because, obviously, it’s tough time for them. They are so incredible to us and the support we get from them day-in and day-out is bar none.”

Kittle paused a bit when asked about his promise to Jed York and how it was his clutch play that got the 49ers into position for the winning points.

[RELATED: Where 49ers stand in playoff picture]

“It’s football, and things come full circle sometimes,” Kittle said.

Said Jed York, “You can’t get too ahead of yourself. It was definitely special. We have a lot more to accomplish. I think if anything, it shows the tightness we have as an entire group. Everybody having each other’s back.”

Why Kyle Juszczyk gives George Kittle edge for 49ers' play of the year

Why Kyle Juszczyk gives George Kittle edge for 49ers' play of the year

The 49ers have made it to the Super Bowl, but there were several stops along the way when that outcome didn't appear as likely. Yes, San Francisco was the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC, but only by the slimmest of margins.

Literally inches, you might recall.

Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw sealed the top seed for the 49ers -- and a first-round bye -- with his clutch fourth-down stop on the goal line in the final seconds of San Francisco's Week 17 win over the Seattle Seahawks. It undoubtedly will go down as one of the most memorable plays in franchise history, but depending on who you ask, it wasn't even the biggest play of the current season.

There are a few additional contenders, but the most obvious would be tight end George Kittle's 39-yard catch-and-run on fourth-and-2 on the 49ers' game-winning drive to beat the Saints in Week 14. 

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was on the sideline for both plays, and recently offered his opinion as to which is the 49ers' play of the year. 

"Two legendary plays ... season-defining plays, there," Juszczyk told 95.7 The Game's "Jo, Lo & Dibs" on Tuesday morning. "I'm an offensive guy, though, and I can't lie, when you started talking about the biggest play of the season, the first play that jumped to my mind was George's play in New Orleans, so I'm gonna give that one to George with Dre as a close second. Just two guys putting the team on their back and just willing the team to a win. So, both absolutely phenomenal plays."

[RELATED: Why 'defense wins championships' adage applies to 49ers]

Super Bowl LIV will mark the seventh straight Super Bowl featuring two top-two seeds, further indicating the benefit of a first-round bye. Both Kittle and Greenlaw's clutch plays were absolutely essential to the 49ers achieving that high seed, so really, it's impossible to say which was the play of the year, because San Francisco's season looks a whole lot different without both of them.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).

Teams with defenses like 49ers' have great track record in Super Bowl

Teams with defenses like 49ers' have great track record in Super Bowl

The "Defense wins championships" adage didn't arise out of nowhere. It's a tried and true method tested over multiple decades of different eras of the NFL, and one that bodes well for the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV against the Kanas City Chiefs.

San Francisco finished the regular season with the No. 2-ranked defense in the league behind only the New England Patriots. The Niners have been even better on that side of the ball through two playoff contests, where they've held their opponents to nearly 30 fewer total yards per game. That defense will face arguably its toughest test all year long in Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, but based on history, there is reason to believe it will hold up.

As ESPN's Dan Orlovsky discussed on Tuesday morning's episode of "Get Up", teams with a top-two ranked defense have a very good track record in the Super Bowl. In fact, it has usually taken a Hall of Fame quarterback to overcome that defense.

Kansas City ranked fifth in the NFL during the regular season with an average of 28.2 points per game, but it's worth noting that Mahomes missed two games due to injury, and likely wasn't at full strength for several other contests. He appears to be fully healthy now, as the Chiefs have exploded for an average of 43.0 points per game in the playoffs. For comparison, the 49ers rank second among all postseason teams with an average of 32.0 points per game. While those previous top-two ranked defenses have given up an average of 18 points per game in the Super Bowl, it's unlikely San Francisco will be able to limit the Chiefs' high-flying offense to that degree, but even if they can get close, that might be enough to prove victorious.

[RELATED: 49ers, Chiefs show importance of bye weeks in NFL playoffs]

As great as the historical track record is for the 49ers, that Hall of Fame QB exception to the rule likely will keep the team from puffing its chest too much before the Big Game. Mahomes is only in his third professional season and second as a starting quarterback, but it sure looks like he'll eventually wind up in Canton.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).