49ers' Kittle on a Roll Heading Into First NFL Playoff Game

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Compared with 2018, George Kittle had a down year in 2019 – relatively speaking, of course.

The 49ers’ third-year tight end didn’t quite have the numbers he had in 2018 when he set an NFL record for a tight end with 1,377 yards receiving on 88 catches, with a 15.6-yard average, playing 16 games. In 2018, he missed two games yet still had 85 catches, 1,053 receiving yards and a 12.4 average.

In 2019, Kittle was a marked man, a focal point of the 49ers’ passing attack. Opposing defenses knew they had to figure out a way to stop him – and yet seldom could.

Kittle was one of the most important players on the team as a superb blocker and receiver as the 49ers went 13-3, won the NFC West and earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

When the Niners open the postseason January 11 (against an opponent to be determined in the wild-card round), Kittle will again be an important factor for San Francisco, as he was in so many big games this season.

Kittle, elected to the Pro Bowl for a second year, is coming off a huge performance in a 26-21 win over Seattle in the regular-season finale, in which he caught all seven passes aimed in his direction for 86 yards. The week before, he had five catches for 79 yards and a TD in a win over the Rams. And, in a tough loss to the Falcons the previous week, he had a season-high 13 catches for 134 yards.

As Keiana Martin of 49ers.com noted this week, one of Kittle’s strengths is making yards after the catch. Against the Seahawks, Kittle forced three missed tackles, bringing his season total to 20, which ranks No. 1 among all NFL tight ends and wideouts this year.  His 621 yards this season after the catch was best among all players at his position.

And, the analytic website Pro Football Focus gave Kittle a grade of 95.0 this season, which Martin wrote is “the highest overall grade for a season ever given to a tight end in the PFF era,” besting the 92.0 mark of Rob Gronkowski in 2011.

Kittle missed two games with an injury this season, but is now healthy and productive going into the first playoff game of his pro career.

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