49ers

Hobbled George Kittle happy Ross Dwelley helped 49ers beat Cardinals

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USATSI

Hobbled George Kittle happy Ross Dwelley helped 49ers beat Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Nobody was better equipped to get the 49ers’ offense going than record-setting tight end George Kittle.

And when the 49ers needed one final play to clinch their 28-25 victory over the pesky Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, Kittle knew he was not the team’s best tight end for the job because of an injury he sustained early in the game.

Ross Dwelley, who has made four consecutive starts with fullback Kyle Juszczyk out of action, made the biggest catch of his two-year NFL career when he hauled in an 11-yard pass from Jimmy Garoppolo on a third-and-9 play after the two-minute warning. The play allowed the 49ers to run out the clock.

“In football, stuff happens,” Kittle said. “You either decide to go back out or you don’t. I tried to give my team everything I could, and in the fourth quarter, I really couldn’t go any more.

“I’m happy to have a guy like Ross Dwelley in there stepping up. Can’t say enough about Ross and the play he made. I’m so happy for him.”

Kittle was injured on the 49ers’ first offensive play when Arizona outside linebacker Chandler Jones inadvertently struck Kittle on his left knee with his helmet on a running play. Kittle was in obvious pain. He left the game, but returned for the 49ers’ next offensive possession.

Kittle had a nice battle going with Cardinals safety Budda Baker, who broke up a third-down pass to Kittle on the next possession. He let Kittle hear about it. But Kittle got the last laugh.

“He made a couple of good plays, and I just had to remind him I was going to be here all night,” Kittle said.

On the 49ers’ third offensive possession, Kittle shook Baker at the line of scrimmage to get wide open across the middle. He made a safety miss and when Baker got back into position to make the tackle, Kittle tossed him aside to finish off the 30-yard catch-and-run to tie the game at 7-7.

What was going through Kittle’s mind when he had the ball in his hands?

“Score,” Kittle said. “Don’t let them tackle you. Make them tackle you. Safeties take creative angles. I wasn’t the most mobile person tonight, and they still took creative angles on me. Just try to be as violent as possible and see if they can match your intensity.”

Despite being in obvious discomfort throughout the game, Kittle still managed to catch six passes for 79 yards. But Kittle and tight ends coach Jon Embree determined late in the game that Dwelley was the better option when the game was on the line.

“I know once something happens, you try to push through it as much as you can, but there comes a point if I feel like I’m a liability to the team, and I’m not the best man for the job, I definitely have to (leave the game),” Kittle said.

“I talked to my coach about it and we made a decision about it. Definitely thought Dwelley was definitely more mobile than I was in the fourth quarter.”

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Dwelley caught all four passes Garoppolo threw his way. He had 29 yards receiving, but no play was bigger than the pass that clinched the 49ers’ eighth victory to open the season.

Afterward, Kittle might not have been feeling great, physically, but emotionally, he was just fine.

When asked how he was feeling, Kittle answered, “Great. You kidding me? Eight and oh.”

NFL rumors: League seeks to add seventh playoff team in each conference

NFL rumors: League seeks to add seventh playoff team in each conference

The NFL’s playoff structure is expected to change to reportedly include seven teams in both conferences to advance to the postseason.

The current proposal, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, would add one playoff team in each conference and only the top seed in the AFC and NFC would be rewarded with byes in the first round of the playoffs.

The changes to the playoff format would take effect this season when the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified. ESPN reports there is “mounting optimism” the new CBA will be agreed upon within the week.

Through last season, the top six teams in both conferences made the playoffs. If the playoff proposal had been in effect last season, the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers would have advanced to the playoffs as the Nos. 7 seeds.

As the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the 49ers would have still earned a first-round bye in the playoffs. But the Green Bay Packers, the No. 2 seed, would have played in the extra game against the Rams. If the Rams were to have upset the Packers in the wild-card round, the 49ers would have played Los Angeles in the NFC Divisional Playoff instead of the Minnesota Vikings.

But the new proposal would have had an even more major impact in the AFC, where the Kansas City Chiefs would have been forced to win three games in the playoffs just to advance to the Super Bowl.

"That's been agreed to for a long time," one source familiar with the CBA talks told ESPN about the NFL's new playoff structure. "There wasn't a lot of disagreement to that issue."

[RELATED49ers roster analysis: More receiver depth needed around Deebo Samuel]

Players on the top team in each conference will receive postseason pay for the bye weekend, unlike years past, according to the report.

Also, ESPN reported that the sides are also trying to work through a proposal for a 17-game regular season, while the exhibition season is shortened to three games. The earliest that change could occur would be the 2021 season, according to the report.

Deebo Samuel pleas for 49ers to re-sign Emmanuel Sanders in free agency

Deebo Samuel pleas for 49ers to re-sign Emmanuel Sanders in free agency

Before the 49ers officially had lost Super Bowl LIV to the Kansas City Chiefs, tight end George Kittle was already preaching they would be back next year.

But it didn't stop with him.

49ers players throughout the roster already are thinking of everything they can do to make another run at it, and that includes bringing back free-agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

Fellow wideout Deebo Samuel made it clear Wednesday on Twitter that he wants to see the 49ers bring back the 32-year-old veteran.

Sanders showed his appreciation later Wednesday morning.

After coming over from the Denver Broncos via trade in October, Sanders excelled with the 49ers. He caught 36 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season, and added five receptions for 71 yards in the postseason.

But Sanders could have been an even more critical part of 49ers lore, had it not been for Jimmy Garoppolo's overthrown pass with less than two minutes remaining in Super Bowl LIV. But it was not meant to be.

Sanders has been open about his love for the team that had just barely missed the championship and has spoken out about those second-guessing him due to his age. 

The receiver laughed at the fact that he has been "flying past 23-year-olds," and exhorted that he still has plenty of good years left in him.

[RELATED: Sanders offers advice to teammates playing in first Super Bowl]

He also embraced the youth the other wide receivers brought to the team, such as Samuel and Kendrick Bourne. Sanders loved the loose vibes of the 49ers' locker room and assisted the younger players in prepping for the big moments of the Super Bowl. 

Deebo surely noticed that and knows he wants his teammate back for the team's quest to make another Super Bowl run next season.