SANTA CLARA -- After two weeks of watching his team play games from the press box tower, 49ers tight end George Kittle was back on the field at Levi's Stadium on Sunday night, making a huge impact on San Francisco's offense.
Kittle was productive in his own right in the 49ers' 37-8 win over the Green Bay Packers, catching all six of his targets for 129 yards and a touchdown. His sideline presence didn't show up in the box score, but his impact on San Francisco's running game did.
The 49ers averaged 5.1 yards per carry with Kittle in the lineup Sunday. In the two weeks without him, they averaged only 2.6 yards per run. Needless to say, coach Kyle Shanahan was very happy to have one of his biggest playmakers on the mend from a bone chip in his ankle and a popped capsule in his knee.
“He means a ton, you all know that,” Shanahan said Sunday. “It was hard without him and to have him back tonight, it was obviously what he did in the pass game but what he does in the run game is equally important. It was great to have him out there.”
Opening up the run game takes the pressure off of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and Kittle is the QB's most reliable target. Despite missing two games, Kittle leads the 49ers in receptions (52), targets (63) and receiving yards (670).
But Garoppolo didn't miss Kittle's production most. Interestingly, the QB really keyed in on the intangibles the tight end brings to the table.
“George is awesome, man,” Garoppolo said. “Just the energy he brings on the sideline, getting guys involved getting guys talking. In the huddle even. It’s little things like that and then obviously you guys see what he does on the field.
“I throw him a two-yard route and he takes it for, whatever, 20-to-30 yards. Runs a great route, scores a touchdown. It’s just all the little things that he does that go so unnoticed.”
Kittle was also back to normal on the podium after the game. As always, he was gregarious and positive, never alluding that his injuries limited his performance.
He also added a bit of comedy in discussing finally running the play that he took for 61 yards into the end zone.
“Oh my, we’ve been running that since Week 1,” Kittle said of the long touchdown. “And I have to run it like two or three times a week. That’s like a 50-yard route every single time. I’m just like, ‘Hey Kyle, relax. I’m a tight end.’
“We finally got the call and ran it, so that was pretty fun. It’s just a corner post. Perfect coverage to run it against. Jimmy gave me a perfect ball and I had to unhitch the trailer and out-run a couple guys. It was pretty fun.”
The 49ers got Kittle back at the right time. They're on the road the next two weeks, facing the Baltimore Ravens (8-2) and New Orleans Saints (9-2).
Sunday showed just how much he helps.