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.”