SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Far from a fashionista, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle isn’t much into using clothes to make a statement. Given his druthers, Kittle would arrive to and leave every game in a pair of sweatpants and a cutoff sweatshirt.
To this point in a career that’s a season and three-quarters deep, Kittle hasn’t gone that far. Yet.
Instead, Kittle uses his pregame outfits as a way to get himself in the right frame of mind. An unabashed fan of professional wrestling — he has a Stone Cold Steve Austin action figure prominently displayed in his locker — Kittle’s idea of keeping up with fashion is changing which wrestling T-shirt he’s going to wear from week to week.
“For me, it’s always kind of a mindset,” Kittle said. “Like, I wear the Stone Cold Steve Austin shirt, which he’s just kind of like ‘Screw everything, I’m going to do whatever I want to do and I’m going to win.’ It just kind of gets me in the mindset for it.”
Despite early season success in his basic jeans and a T-shirt look, Kittle said his fiancée began pushing him to have more style, suggesting other options like a button-up shirt with a nice pair of jeans and a bomber jacket. He tried it before the Week 2 game against Detroit but that seemed a little too far for Kittle, who recently began compromising by opting for something a little dressier while also seeking a theme.
For instance, on the day of the Week 12 loss in Tampa, he wore a button up Hawaiian shirt adorned with toucans.
“I won’t wear a suit to every game because I sweat too much,” Kittle said. “I really like to be able to wear just a pair of jeans and a nice T-shirt. That’s fun for me.”
In this, Kittle’s breakout season as one of the league’s best tight ends, his outfits bear a striking resemblance to his quarterbacks, which is to say that no matter what he wears or who is throwing him the ball, Kittle is getting the job done on the field.
Through 12 games, Kittle ranks third among tight ends in receptions (62) and receiving yards (893), first in yards after the catch (563) and yards after the catch per reception (9.08) and fourth in yards per catch (14.4). Among all pass-catchers, Kittle is 17th in receiving yards and fourth in yards after the catch, trailing only running backs Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley and James White. He also has been the picture of consistency, posting at least 57 receiving yards in nine of 12 games and at least 70 yards in eight of those 12 contests.
With four games left, Kittle is on pace to put up the best statistical season by a tight end in 49ers history. If Kittle can muster 73 receiving yards Sunday against the Denver Broncos, he will pass Vernon Davis‘ 965 receiving yards as the most by a Niners tight end. If Kittle can post 107 receiving yards, he’ll become the first 49ers tight end to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
Although Kittle entered the year far from a household name after entering the league as a fifth-round pick in 2017, those paying attention were already aware of what could be coming, especially considering Kittle was supposed to get a full season with starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo and Kittle had quick and easy chemistry at the end of last season, opening eyes to the potential of the pairing.
But Garoppolo suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 3, turning the reins over to C.J. Beathard, Kittle’s close friend and teammate dating to college at Iowa. Beathard handled the job for the next five games before a wrist injury forced Nick Mullens into action for the past four contests.
Regardless of who has been under center, Kittle has continued to produce.
“Obviously, it hasn’t mattered what quarterback is in there,” Mullens said. “He’s been making plays since day one. You can credit him to that chemistry because it doesn’t matter who is in there. He’s going to catch it and step up and make plays.”
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Indeed, Kittle has been unfazed by the game of musical quarterbacks the Niners have been forced to play this year. In three games with Garoppolo delivering the passes, Kittle averaged 63.7 receiving yards, four catches and 16 yards per reception. In five games with Beathard, Kittle averaged 78.6 yards, five catches and 15.8 yards per reception. In four games with Mullens, Kittle is averaging 77.3 yards, 6.3 catches and 12.2 yards per reception.
One might think the rotating quarterbacks would make life difficult for Kittle, but he says the only differences he sees are in the amount of touch each quarterback has on his throws, how that quarterback might read things and the individual preferences each signal-caller might have for throwing certain routes. Most of that can be refined in practice, though Kittle acknowledged that when a change is made it’s fairly common to spend a little extra time after practice to run some extra routes.
The overriding takeaway: Kittle is becoming the star tight end the team envisioned when it drafted him last year. Although some nagging injuries have slowed him this year, they haven’t accumulated as they did in 2017. And though Kittle still has some issues with the occasional drop, those have been reduced this season as well.
“Kittle has been very similar since the day he got here,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “His production has gone up and down to me based off of health, based off of situations, how good we’re doing around him. But I think Kittle has been very good since he got here. He’s gradually gotten better because he works the right way and I think that’ll continue throughout his career.”
No matter what he wears or who is throwing him the ball.
Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph defends kicking field goal on fourth-and-1 vs. Cleveland Browns — ‘I wanted points there’
DENVER — The Denver Broncos went with math over a gut feel Saturday night, and many of their faithful left the 17-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns talking about a fourth-and-1 on which the team didn’t go for it in the closing minutes as the Broncos dropped to 6-8 and the brink of postseason elimination.
With 4 minutes, 39 seconds remaining, trailing 17-13 and with a fourth-and-1 on the Cleveland 6-yard line, Broncos coach Vance Joseph sent kicker Brandon McManus out for a field goal as boos cascaded down from the stands.
“I wanted points there,” Joseph said. “Had about 4:35 to go in the game. We had one timeout and the two-minute warning. I trust our defense to get a stop there, OK. If we don’t get points there, a touchdown has to win it. It was my decision — take points.”
McManus made the 29-yard field goal — after a delay of game penalty — and the Broncos did get the ball back after their defense stopped the Browns deep in Denver territory, but the Broncos couldn’t move the ball past the 50-yard line to kick a game winner.
Broncos quarterback Case Keenum said he was confident that the Broncos could have converted the fourth-and-1, but he added that he was angry he didn’t get the offense in position for the game winner after the team got the ball back.
“Yes, I felt confident [we would have converted the fourth down],” Keenum said. “I wanted to convert third down. That’s what I wanted to do. [Joseph] felt like the defense would get a stop, and [we would] get the ball back, and they did. They got a stop, and we got the ball back. I can’t complain. I had the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game. That’s all you can ask for.”
Joseph said “absolutely” the Broncos’ back-to-back runs for just 2 yards and no gain on the two plays before the field goal influenced the decision.
“Absolutely, the third-down play didn’t look great, and we had points,” Joseph said. “Again, I trust our defense to get a stop the next drive, and we did … hoping we get a stop there and get the ball back.”
While the Broncos’ defense held on a Browns fourth-down play on the next Cleveland possession, that stand came at Denver’s 13-yard line after Browns running back Nick Chubb gained 53 yards on six carries on the drive. That included a 40-yard run on the first play of Cleveland’s drive.
“That last drive, what was it: 75 yards rushing?” Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “We can’t allow that.”
In five plays, the Broncos were able to go from their own 13-yard line to earn a first-and-10 at the 50-yard line with 52 seconds to play. Joseph said he believed the Broncos needed to get to the Cleveland 42-yard line, at minimum, for McManus to have a chance at a game winner.
Keenum spiked the ball on first down and threw two incompletions to give the Broncos a fourth-and-10 from the 50. Keenum took a low snap in the shotgun and was swarmed under by the Browns’ rush for a sack to end the Broncos’ chances.
“I’m still pretty emotional about it,” Keenum said. “Man, that’s what I dream about. Man, that’s what I want. I want the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game … to get that close, it pisses me off … Lot of anger at myself. There’s some plays I could make that I didn’t.”
It wasn’t pretty, but for at least one more night, the Browns are still in the playoff hunt – Cleveland Browns Blog
DENVER – The Cleveland Browns don’t care how it happened, they just care that it did.
The Browns somehow had slogged through for a 17-16 win, their fourth in five games.
And they had somehow kept their flickering playoff hopes alive.
It was a struggle — for both teams, but the Browns now hope for help on Sunday and point to Cincinnati in a home game on Dec. 23. The team is 4-2 with Gregg Williams as interim coach and Freddie Kitchens as offensive coordinator.
Mayfield was nowhere near as effective as he had been the previous four games, but when it mattered most he came through. After a T.J. Carrie fourth quarter interception, Mayfield hit Jarvis Landry for 12, Rashard Higgins for 16, Landry for six and then found Antonio Callaway for the touchdown that provided the winning points.
Denver would get a field goal to cut the lead to one, but Chubb broke a 40-yard run and the Browns were able to keep the ball until 1:49 remained.
Keenum got the Broncos to the 50, but a spike and two incomplete passes led to the fourth-and-10, when the Browns called blitz and Peppers came through up the middle to end the game.
Mayfield started strong, throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman on the Browns first possession. He finished 18-for-31 for 188 yards, with two touchdowns, one interception and a lost fumble.
It wasn’t a spectacular effort.
But it was a winning effort, and a Browns team that had won four games in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons combined has won four of five to keep the postseason in view. At 6-7-1, the Browns trail five seven-win teams in the standings. If the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans all win Sunday, Cleveland would be eliminated from the race. But, still, at least for Saturday night, the Browns are still alive.
That’s not a prediction many would have made when the Browns fell to 2-6-1 after Williams’ first game, or even before the season.
But that’s where the Browns are.
Believe it or not.
Von Miller eclipses Simon Fletcher as Broncos’ all-time sacks leader
DENVER — Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller has always said he considers the most important part of his job is “getting sacks and making game-changing plays,” and he has now done that more than any other player in franchise history.
When Miller launched himself through the Cleveland Browns‘ offensive line on the last play of the third quarter Saturday night and pulled quarterback Baker Mayfield to the ground, he had his 98th career sack.
Miller passed Broncos Ring of Famer Simon Fletcher, who finished his career with 97.5 sacks.
The play came at an opportune time for the Broncos, as the Browns had driven into Denver territory against a Broncos defense depleted at cornerback by injury and Jamar Taylor‘s ejection. The sack also gave Miller 14.5 for the season, the second-highest single-season total of his career.
His career high is 18.5 in 2012.
Miller was asked this past week if he thinks about awards and records down the road.
“I don’t really,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t. The thing about getting sacks, the sack race is so close right now. I’m three sacks away from [Rams defensive tackle] Aaron Donald, and the next guy behind me is just a sack away. So, it’s a tight race and every sack could mean the difference. That’s where my mindset is at right now.”
The Browns beat the Broncos 17-16.
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