The 49ers did not have a full-strength George Kittle for the second half of their Week 1 game against the Arizona Cardinals, and it hurt.
This time, the 49ers will not have Kittle from the beginning of their Week 2 tilt against the New York Jets. But they should be in a better position to compensate for his absence.
Kittle on Friday was ruled out of Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium with a left knee sprain.
But the 49ers will have rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk and newly signed veteran Mohamed Sanu available for the game, as well. Moreover, veteran tight end Jordan Reed is expected to see a significant increase in his playing time after being on the field for 10 snaps against the Cardinals.
“I think it’s just a good reminder that nothing comes easy in this league,” 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk said just minutes before stepping on a plane Friday for the East Coast. “What we were able to do last year, it wasn’t easy, man.
“We had to grind every week. There were times when George wasn’t in there, and guys like Ross Dwelley had to step up. That’s what we expect to happen again.”
The 49ers overcame injuries throughout last season to finish with a 13-3 record, an NFC West title, homefield advantage in the playoffs and berth in the Super Bowl. Kittle missed two games last season with knee and ankle injuries.
Ross Dwelley started both games in place of Kittle last season. Dwelley had a two-touchdown performance –- and had another touchdown nullified by penalty – in a 36-26 victory over the Cardinals.
Kittle sustained his knee injury late in the first half in Week 1 at Levi’s Stadium. He went to the sideline for the final play of the half, but was back on the field at the beginning of the third quarter.
He was not nearly as effective, though, as he was in obvious discomfort. After catching four passes for 44 yards and taking one handoff for 9 yards in the first half, Kittle did not have any touches in the second half while playing every snap.
Adding Aiyuk and Sanu to the offense should give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo enough options to succeed against the Jets on Sunday. Good teams find other ways to get the job done.
And this is a new season, so the 49ers have to prove all over again that they are a good team.
First off, the 49ers have more options at tight end this season with Dwelley, Reed and rookie Charlie Woerner.
"I'm confident in all three of our guys out there," coach Kyle Shanahan said. "All of them have their traits that they do some things better than the others. But all three of them are capable of running, blocking, catching."
Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis, Aiyuk and Sanu could each see action at wide receiver. And the 49ers also have better pass-catching options out of the backfield with Juszczyk, Raheem Mostert, Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman.
The 49ers are in a much-better position than a year ago with Kittle being unavailable, though where Kittle's absence might be felt the most is in the run game. He is the 49ers' best blocking tight end. Woerner might see more action because of his skill as a blocker.
“When guys are out, people step up,” Juszczyk said. “We did it a lot last year, so it’s something we have experience with.”