Jimmy Garoppolo knew he was going to throw the ball to George Kittle.
The 49ers quarterback told his tight end as much ahead of the biggest play in San Francisco's 48-46 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Coach Kyle Shanahan called timeout with the 49ers facing fourth-and-2 from their own 33-yard line, delivering a play call into Garoppolo's helmet.
As Peter King recounted in his Football Morning In America column, Garoppolo immediately looked to Kittle.
"Hey, you're gonna get the ball on this," Garoppolo told Kittle. "You better win."
Kittle, tucked near wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Emmanuel Sanders just outside the left tackle, was Garoppolo's first read on the play. The tight end was in man coverage against rookie safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, which Kittle said "basically made the decision for me" to break towards the outside.
Garoppolo's pass hit Kittle in stride, and the tight end turned a routine first down into an epic 39-yard gain, crossing midfield as Marcus Williams pulled on Kittle's facemask.
George Freakin’ Kittle 😱😱😱pic.twitter.com/y7ywfKYM2L— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) December 8, 2019
"I knew he'd get flagged for it, so I was actually happy -- it just meant 15 more yards for us," Kittle told King.
"Get as many yards as I can, and hold onto the damn football."
Kittle said the 39-yard reception -- and the ensuing 14 yards on the facemask call -- was "probably" the biggest play of his career. It ultimately set up Robbie Gould for the game-winning 30-yard field goal as the 49ers improved to 11-2 and regained the NFC's top seed.
Garoppolo might not have seen all that coming, but his confidence in targeting Kittle on fourth down proved to be his best decision of the season.