“We tried everything.” That’s what Zac Taylor, head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, said when asked about what his defense did to stop George Kittle. Tried is the operative word, as Kittle compiled a stat sheet as long and full as his flowing locks.
The 13-reception-151-yard-and-a-touchdown performance was good enough for NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, firmly re-establishing himself as one of the league’s most dominant tight ends. This included a catch so clutch and impressive that it’s already being featured on t-shirts.
This all came on the heels of another massive performance in Seattle that featured what will undoubtedly be a career highlight play of the 6’4” 250-pound man tight roping down the sideline with the body control of an acrobat. Since returning from his calf strain in Week 9, the perennial Pro-Bowler has gone on a touchdown tear, totaling a new career-high of six.
Kittle’s back-to-back balling out officially put him in a class all his own. He’s now the first tight end in the history of the NFL to record a touchdown and 150+ yards in consecutive games.
This explosion of offense almost feels out of place for this version of George Kittle. It’s not 2018 anymore, the cupboard is usually well-stocked with weapons, and the ideal version of Shanahan’s system seemingly relies more on his exceptional blocking skills than his catch-and-run ability.
However, these past two weeks presented a tough position with Deebo Samuel out against the Seahawks and somewhat limited for Cincy after missing most practices leading up to the game. Elijah Mitchell was also absent against the Bengals, leaving the Niners with Jeff Wilson and JaMycal Hasty as the only healthy backs.
Obviously, Kittle has proven to be an effective and often used safety valve for Jimmy Garoppolo, who seems to trust the tight end with his life. But his importance in running the ball, such as providing a 10 point EPA swing for the ground game when he was on the field in 2019, is too great to risk if he were to become the passing game’s focal point.
However, when the big man is needed in a must-win game, it feels good knowing that Shanahan can still dial up a plan of attack for one of the league’s elite playmakers. So, wrapping up, here are some of those plays that absolutely changed the game in Cincy.
First, in a display of athleticism that feels almost average from Kittle by now, his sixth touchdown of the season. The score put the Niners up 11 going into the half and continued their offensive red zone dominance. It’s just a tremendous play of fighting through contact to get open, going up to make a great catch, and then immediately turning to find the pylon.
Second, I throw this one in here just because it gives me flashbacks to ‘19 in New Orleans. On top of everything else Kittle does, he really becomes the full package when you consider how fearless he is with the ball in his hands. The man looks like a runaway cement mixer filled with TNT once he turns upfield, and it takes a lot of Bengals to stop that momentum.
George Kittle fighting the entire Bengals defense lol pic.twitter.com/ibIQIbms07— John Chapman (@JL_Chapman) December 13, 2021
Lastly, the catch that has everyone talking, including Jerry Rice, who deemed it “ridiculous” on the Gold Standard podcast. It’s not just the physical feat and concentration of getting up and holding on to make that catch. It’s about doing it in the biggest moment of the game. That’s what separates good players from great ones.