George Kittle identifies key to 49ers' incredible Super Bowl turnaround

George Kittle identifies key to 49ers' incredible Super Bowl turnaround

MIAMI, Fla. -- The 49ers have spent the week in Miami sharpening their game plan and mental iron for their Super Bowl LIV battle with the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. 

Every team enters the season believing they have what it takes to win it all. Otherwise, why play? But in the 49ers' case, a turnaround this stark -- from a team that opened the 2017 season 0-9 to being in the Super Bowl -- is a rare feat. 

So, what happened? Yes, the 49ers added more talent. Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander entered the equation. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is fully healthy. 

To star tight end George Kittle, though, the answer is quite simple. 

"We figured out how to win," Kittle said Thursday. "My rookie year, we lost six straight games by three or less points and then last year we lost like 10 games by less than 10 points. So like, that was the thing we were like,'Hey, we're almost there.' We were a good team but we just couldn't figure out to win. We just had to find different ways to win.

"Our first week in Tampa, we could have lost that one but we ended up having like three or four forced turnovers. We had more interceptions in that game then we did the entire year last year. We started making play and we got the ball out.  We were protecting the ball better. Things started clicking and then once that happened then you start winning."

To Kittle, that Week 1 win, a 31-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, really set the tone for what the 49ers believed they could be and ultimately transformed into. 

"Oh, 100 percent," Kittle said. "The Tampa game was 100 percent a turning point. Getting that win the way we did, then we went into Cincinnati and won big. Another big one was the Pittsburgh game. We had five turnovers on offense and we still found a way to win. If you look at the stats, the ball doesn't lie. If you turn the ball over in the NFL, you'll lose. We had five turnovers and I think we only forced one turnover and that was in the fourth quarter when we needed it and we got away with a win.

"So when you figure out ways to win ugly, I mean Washington we won with three field goals, I mean, if you can win doing that and the ways that we won -- we won a shootout in New Orleans, you know? WE were down 17-0 against the Cardinals and came back and won. All this team has done all year is win in every single situation possible. We haven't put ourselves in he best positions every week, but we figure out a way to win."

The 49ers have rolled opponents and won squeakers. They have relied on their defense one week, their running game the next and the arm of Jimmy Garoppolo when called upon. They believe in themselves and their will to win.

[RELATED: Shanahan's bond with 'no BS' Jimmy G key to 49ers' SB run]

That steadfast belief in their ability to win in any situation mirrors that of their opponent in Super Bowl LIV. The Chiefs are as resilient as they come. They are 4-0 when falling behind by 10 points or more this season, and erased double-digit deficits in the AFC divisional round and AFC title game to punch their ticket to Miami. 

Both teams know how to win at any cost, and they'll use all their lessons from this season to throw the final punch Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8:30 p.m. Thursday, 9:30 p.m. Friday, and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.

Why Kwon Alexander's fiery presence is so important to 49ers' success

Why Kwon Alexander's fiery presence is so important to 49ers' success

SANTA CLARA -- A key piece of the 49ers' defense returned to practice ahead of the team’s divisional-round game on Saturday, but what Kwon Alexander does on the field might not be the most important thing he does. 

Nick Bosa recently called Alexander the MVP of the team because of the energy he consistently brings to the field. While it is a huge influence on his teammates, the veteran linebacker said it just comes naturally. 

"It’s very important to me," Alexander explained. "It’s really just me, you know, I can’t be nobody else but myself. I just go out there and do what I do best and try to help everybody else out. Bring everybody else out their shell because a lot of people be in their shell and once they get their confidence, they’ll be able to just have fun with it."  

Alexander returned to practice this week for the first time since being placed on injured reserve after Week 9 with a torn pectoral muscle. His attitude and presence is valued by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. 

"Having Kwon is exciting," Saleh said. "He brings a lot of juice, a lot of energy. Even in practice, if there's a lull in practice, he's the first to speak up to get guys going. 

"From a coach's view, it's very beneficial to have a guy who, regardless whether it's bad or good, his voice is projecting positive energy and trying to get people rolling. To have Kwon, aside from the player, just from the juice and the energy he brings and what he does for everybody around him, is really priceless."

Alexander admits his fiery attitude was influenced by former Buccaneers teammate Lavonte David. While Alexander has been competitive his whole life, playing alongside David left its mark. 

"Just experience really and playing with Lavonte David in Tampa," Alexander said. "He was very vocal on the field, very smart. So that made me catch on to him. Learning from him a lot. Being vocal, trying to be smart and just help everybody else out." 

Alexander remains positive about his return especially after watching J.J. Watt play in the Texans’ wild-card win. Watt tore his pectoral muscle just a few days prior to Alexander’s injury and had a successful game with one sack, one tackle for a loss and two quarterback hits. 

"Very encouraging," Alexander said of Watt. "It’s a blessing for him and god. He went out there and made some big plays and I can’t wait to get out there myself and just to get that feeling back again. Top off to J.J., man. 

"Knowing him, I already know he’s feeling legendary. He’s a great player. He works hard so knowing him, going back out there was easy for him."  

[RELATED: How 49ers' Alexander was lifted up by Texans' Watt in rehab]

Alexander is confident he is ready to play after sitting out eight regular-season games. He reports that his teammates are ready as well. 

"We turning up all day," he said. "We up. We piped up all day."

Fantasy football waiver wire: Four non-QBs you should target in Week 10

waiverwiremckissicusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Fantasy football waiver wire: Four non-QBs you should target in Week 10

With the exception of Cowboys-Giants on Monday night, Week 9 is in the books.

There now remains just one undefeated team in the NFL after fantasy superstar Lamar Jackson led the Baltimore Ravens to a big win over the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football. The Pats’ loss leaves Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers as the final team with a record unscathed by a loss.

The toughest week for fantasy players this season awaits, as Week 10 features six NFL teams who will be on a bye week: Jacksonville, Houston, Washington, Philadelphia, Denver, New England.

If you’re like me (and just about anyone else on earth who plays fantasy football) you’re going to need some fill-ins as the playoff push continues.

Here are four non-quarterbacks who could help you stay competitive in a week with the most teams on bye of any in the 2019 NFL season, all of whom are owned in 20 percent or less of fantasy leagues.

Zach Pascal, Indianapolis Colts, WR

20 percent owned in Yahoo leagues

With T.Y. Hilton expected to be out at least another few weeks with a calf injury, the Colts’ No. 2 receiver will pick up most of the slack for Indianapolis in the passing game. Pascal caught five of his six targets Sunday against the Steelers, finishing with 76 yards and a touchdown.

He’s topped 50 yards in four of his last six games and will likely receive the lion's share of the targets for the team in the coming weeks. The one holdup on Pascal is the injury to quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who left Sunday’s loss with a knee injury and did not return.

There’s been no clarity yet on how long the QB will be out, but backup Brian Hoyer did toss three touchdowns in his absence, so it’s not like they’ll abandon the pass without Brissett.

There is a matchup with the lowly Miami Dolphins coming in Week 10, so Pascal is at least worth a roster spot for this week, and could be a sneaky play down the stretch.

Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, TE

7 percent owned in Yahoo leagues

Don’t even get me started on how much of a bust O.J. Howard has been for fantasy players this season, but the Buccaneers have only scored under 20 points in a game once this season. When “Mr. Turnover” himself (it’s catchy, I know) Jameis Winston can actually complete a pass, he likes to look for Brate, especially in the red zone.

Howard missed Week 9 and isn’t expected to suit up for Week 10, leaving Brate as a potential value play as a bye week fill-in. The Cardinals have given up the most fantasy points to tight ends of any team this season, so at least give Brate a look if you’re in need of a tight end.

J.D. McKissic, Detroit Lions, RB

12 percent owned in Yahoo leagues

I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you: the running back situation on the waiver wire is brutal as Week 10 begins. With six teams on bye, coupled with a litany of injuries at the position, every league has at least two or three teams in need of a tailback this week.

One decent option for Week 10 could be McKissic. He got just four carries in Sunday’s loss to the Raiders but caught three of his four targets for 40 yards and a touchdown.

So if you’re in a PPR league, and are desperate for a running back, there are worse options than McKissic. 

Olabisi Johnson, Minnesota Vikings, WR

3 percent owned in Yahoo leagues

If you’re like me and reached on Adam Thielen in your fantasy draft, you’ve experienced a wide range of emotions in fantasy football this season. From that dominant two-touchdown game against the Giants in Week 5 to combining for one catch over the past three weeks, it’s been a mixed bag.

After Thielen left Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs with a hamstring injury, Johnson caught just one pass for four yards -- but it was for a touchdown. If Thielen continues to miss time, the Vikings don’t have many options outside of Stefon Diggs to throw to.

Johnson has two touchdowns over his last three games and could be a deep sleeper if you need a plug-in at the flex.