Why 49ers' George Kittle was thankful for defense after win vs. Bucs

Why 49ers' George Kittle was thankful for defense after win vs. Bucs

BOARDMAN, Ohio -- The 49ers left Tampa with a Week 1 win Sunday because of their defense.  

The defense not only helped get San Francisco's offense back on the field, but they put points on the board. Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon both returned interceptions for touchdowns Sunday, and the 49ers didn't score one defensive TD all of last season.

The 49ers' defense kept the entire team energized through Sunday's heat and humidity, according to tight end George Kittle. 

“Watching Nick Bosa get sacks and watching Dee Ford get strip fumbles, it gets the offense going,” Kittle said after the 49ers' 31-17 win over the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. “When your defense is playing like that, Sherman with a pick six, Ahkello with a pick six, it just gets you fired up.” 

The 49ers set an NFL record in 2018 after they forced just 11 turnovers, the fewest in league history. They forced four Sunday, and Kittle explained how those can set the offense up for success when they get the ball. 

“It’s hard to watch an offense go down your defense like a 12-play drive for a touchdown,” Kittle said Sunday. “That kinds of drains the offense just sitting there. But when your defense makes those big plays, it just gets everyone excited and gets the offense moving. It’s good vibes really.” 

The offense didn't take full advantage, and sputtered against the Bucs. Penalties wiped three 49ers touchdowns off the board in the first half, two of which were scored by Kittle.

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was called for offensive pass interference, while right tackle Mike McGlinchey was hit with an illegal formation penalty. Kittle joked that his teammates had ulterior motives.  

“I’m pretty sure Juice and McGlinchey were playing against me in fantasy football so I’m pretty sure that’s what that was,” Kittle deadpanned. “That wasn’t my fault. But yeah, it was frustrating.

“We hurt ourselves a lot. Whether it’s offensive penalties, left and right, if we can clean those up because I think we spotted them like 20 points and so when you’re doing that, it’s kind of hard to win games.” 

Kittle had a quiet day, but he still led the 49ers with eight catches for 54 yards. San Francisco accounted for just 256 yards of total offense, and Kittle credited the defense for giving the 49ers' struggling offense a chance. 

“You don’t want to put your defense in a hole, but our defense responded,” Kittle said. “They definitely carried us that game, and they gave us just enough opportunities to close the game out.” 

In his first regular-season action since tearing his ACL in Week 3 last season, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had a modest showing. Garoppolo completed 18 of his 27 passes for 166 yards, a touchdown and one interception, but Kittle isn’t worried about his QB. Kittle knows Garropolo's potential, and the tight end believes the signal-caller will continue to improve as he gets more snaps under his belt. 

“Jimmy is the reason we are going to win any games we are going to win,” Kittle said. “If he’s playing good, the whole offense is going to play good. That’s all it is. Jimmy is the leader of this team and when he’s playing well, we are really running well. Especially on that last drive we connected on a couple of passes and that’s just fun and good football.” 

[RELATED: Ford happy with 49ers' win, but expects more from D-line]

Despite the offensive struggles, the 49ers started 1-0 for the first time since 2015 thanks to Sunday's win. Kittle picked up a first, too. 

“My favorite thing is that I’ve never won in this stadium,” Kittle explained. “I lost two Outback bowls here plus last year, so, kind of exciting to get that monkey off my back. It was a big thing for me today, that was my focus. That win was big for me.”

49ers injury report: George Kittle feels 'fantastic,' remains doubtful

49ers injury report: George Kittle feels 'fantastic,' remains doubtful

SANTA CLARA – Tight end George Kittle is listed as doubtful to play in the 49ers’ game on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

But Kittle did not sound like a person resigned to his fate to watch another game from an 800 level suite at Levi's Stadium.

“I’m feeling fantastic,” said Kittle, who is expected to miss his second consecutive game due to left knee and ankle injuries.

Kittle spent the early part of practice on Friday with a member of the team’s strength and conditioning staff. Kittle wore a black hoodie as he went through his rehabilitation work.

“He’s definitely better this week than he was last week,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We’ll see how these next two days go. We have him ‘doubtful,’ because we’d rather not (play him). We want him to be healthy throughout this year.

“Kittle won’t allow us to ever rule him out until it’s right at game time because he has done some pretty amazing things the last couple of years.”

Kittle sustained the injuries on the 49ers’ first play of their Oct. 31 game against the Cardinals. He returned to action and played 49 of the 49ers’ 70 snaps. He still managed to catch six passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.

Shanahan said he feels an obligation to protect Kittle from himself. After all, if it were up to Kittle, he would definitely play.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Shanahan said. “He played through the game two weeks ago with the same deal. That’s why he’s a guy you never count out. But you try to be smart with him, though. We’ll see how the other people do going up to kickoff.”

Kittle, running back Matt Breida, kicker Robbie Gould, left tackle Joe Staley and nose tackle D.J. Jones are not expected to play due to injuries.

[RELATED: Jimmy G can right the ship in 49ers' showdown vs. Cards]

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is listed as questionable with a ribs injury. Sanders did not practice this week but he participated in walk-throughs on Thursday and Friday, suggesting a strong possibility he will be available to play on Sunday.

49ers injury report

DT D.J. Jones (groin)
T Joe Staley (finger)

RB Matt Breida (ankle)
K Robbie Gould (right quadricep)
TE George Kittle (knee, ankle)

LB Azeez Al-Shaair (concussion)
RB Raheem Mostert (knee)
WR Dante Pettis (back)
WR Emmanuel Sanders (ribs)
CB Ahkello Witherspoon (foot, quadricep)

Cardinals injury report

DE Jonathan Bullard (foot)
RB Chase Edmonds (hamstring)

CB Tramaine Brock (hamstring)
DE Zach Kerr (knee)
T Justin Murray (knee)
LB Terrell Suggs (hamstring, back)

Ex-49er Ian Williams calls out Mason Rudolph for role in Myles Garrett brawl


Ex-49er Ian Williams calls out Mason Rudolph for role in Myles Garrett brawl

The end of Thursday night's Browns-Steelers game set social media on fire as Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph and Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett got into an altercation that saw Garrett rip Rudolph's helmet off and club him over the head with it when the quarterback charged him.

Garrett was suspended indefinitely by the NFL, severely impacting the AFC playoff race and the Browns' chances of making the postseason. 

While everyone was quick to vilify Garrett for the inexcusable action, Rudolph hardly is without fault. After getting tackled to the ground with five seconds left in the Browns' 21-7 win, Rudolph tried to rip Garrett's helmet off and kicked him before charging him and setting off the melee. 

Former 49ers defensive tackle and current NBC Sports analyst Ian Williams isn't excusing Garrett's behavior, it was dangerous and reckless. But Williams believes Rudolph also should be held accountable for instigating the entire fracas with his childish actions. 

"I am not condoning what Myles Garrett did last night," Williams said Friday. "I am not OK with what he did last night and he knows it. People know it. He knows he was in the wrong. He did something wrong, you get punished for it. Everybody's pointing the finger at him like, 'Oh, he's the bad guy. Oh, Myles Garrett, he's dirty, he's bad.' There was no reason, absolutely no reason for Mason Rudolph to try to take his helmet off like that. No reason. You playing football, bro. What do you expect? Yeah, you're going to get hit. You're going to get tackled.

"We tired of quarterbacks being able to get rid of the ball like that or them not calling you down and then you get away from a sack, Then you make a big play and I get my a-- chewed. 'Myles, why didn't you take him to the ground?' So Mason's all mad: 'Yo, I got taken to the ground, I'm mad. I got my a-- knocked out a couple weeks ago from Earl Thomas. So, I'm a little angry now, so if anyone touches me or takes me down I'm going to show out. I ain't going to let them punk me again.' Bro, we understand. We don't want that to happen to anybody, we clean players."

It's easy to judge Garrett's actions based on the severity of them, but Rudolph's anger at a clean NFL hit is what sparked the fracas and he, in Williams' view, should be held to account.

"As soon as [Rudolph] hit the ground, he's over here trying to take off the helmet of Myles," Williams said. "Literally, trying to twist it and rip it off ... To twist it and try to pull it off? That hurts. So, you know, Myles is pissed and obviously he's going to win that battle. Everyone is like, 'Well, he's bigger.' Duh! He's going to win that battle. 'Punk little quarterback going to try me like that. I'll take your helmet off. You ain't going to try me like that.' So, he took the helmet. Meanwhile, Mason is kicking him. Kicking him in the groin. Probably kicked him in the area.

"He gets the helmet off and he's walking away. The offensive lineman [David] DeCastro is holding him and Myles is kind of like done with it. He was about to drop the helmet and then here comes old little Mason Rudolph. All angry, Want to come out of nowhere ... try to run up on him and like, 'Bro, what you expect?'"

Williams understands emotions will get the best of everyone while on the football field, but you can't ban one member of the melee and give the other a slap on the wrist.

"Mason should get suspended, too. Or fined. Actually, both," Williams said. "He instigated the whole thing, and then the fact he would try to take a player's helmet off after he did nothing wrong ... Like bro, it was a simple tackle. Did you get mad that you got tackled with 20 seconds left in the game? Is that what it was, Mason? And the fact that he gets disciplined after ... No, he should have been disciplined just as the list came out. But he wasn't, it was after the fact.

"If you get in trouble at school and y'all get taken to the principal's office and the main dude or girl that started it is sitting in class and they are like, 'We'll deal with him later,' while you are sitting in the principal's office. Like, no, he started the whole thing, he should be in here with us."

While Garrett, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi suspensions of varying lengths for the altercation, Rudolph reportedly only will receive a fine.

[RELATED: Shanahan discusses 'unacceptable' Garrett incident]

The Browns now must try to fight for the playoffs without their best player, while the Steelers quarterback gets off relatively scott free.

Although, with the way Rudolph played Thursday, him being on the field might not be the best thing for the Steelers' playoff hopes.