This edition of the countdown focuses on a late December performance to remember by a franchise cornerstone.
As a refresher, I mainly considered how each performance held up with the eye test. After going back and watching the game film, was it as impressive now as it was at the time?
I also weighed the game’s impact, meaning the stakes of each contest played a role in how these rankings ultimately panned out, and finally, good old-fashioned statistics. I also emphasized the objective numbers a player posted in their respective games.
George Kittle week 16 vs Washington
In 2022, Kittle had a season to remember, recording four multi-touchdown games en route to a career-high 11 touchdown receptions. With a few great options to choose from, one of these games stood out above the rest.
On a cool Christmas Eve afternoon in Santa Clara, Kittle gifted 49ers fans everywhere a holiday to remember. In a game that proved imperative to San Francisco securing the two seed in the NFC playoffs, the star tight end delivered in a big way against a tough Washington defense that was top ten in both points and yards allowed.
This was the first game that Kittle had eclipsed 100 receiving yards in since week 14 of the 2021 season when he accomplished that feat in a thrilling overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
It was also the first time in his career that he had ever recorded a multi-touchdown game in back-to-back weeks. Five of the six receptions he recorded in this game went for a first down.
He put together a staggering 4.62 yards per route run in this game, the highest total any 49ers player posted during the 2022 season.
Brock Purdy targeted five different 49ers in this game. Christian McCaffrey, Jauan Jennings, and Ray-Ray McCloud combined for 33 receiving yards on the day. Kittle’s 50 yards after the catch were more than the combined yards those three posted.
He caught six passes in this game, with a perfect passer rating of 158.3 when targeted. I cut up all six of those receptions and added a bit of context for each of them.
Kittle got his day started with a chunk play, taking a well-placed ball up field for a 25-yard gain that included 14 yards of YAC:
25 yard gain on a ‘Glance’ route by George Kittle— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) June 29, 2023
Good ball placement allowed Kittle to do what he does best, dominate with the ball in his hands after the catch
Added an additional 14 yards of YAC on this play pic.twitter.com/PInxI7u8bu
On the first drive of the second half, Kittle reeled in a 13-yard reception on a mirrored ‘out’ concept. While the yardage total on this play isn’t anything to write home about, the end gives us a vintage Kittle moment. He completely bowls over the defensive back trying to tackle him, effortlessly sending him slamming into the Levi’s turf.
George Kittle 13 yard reception on a mirrored out concept pic.twitter.com/OBcZm4lajU— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) June 29, 2023
His third reception of the day was by far the most interesting one. Kittle is on the receiving end of a deep arcing 34-yard touchdown from Brock Purdy, which is good. The only problem? He and wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud appeared to be running mirrored routes that ended up in the same spot, which is atypical of a Kyle Shanahan offense.
Sure enough, Kittle confirmed in the post-game press conference that there was a bit of adlibbing on his part in this play. In a lighthearted holiday reference, he said that he “Grinched” the ball from his teammate before explaining how exactly he ended up in a spot to make a play on the ball. When asked about what he saw on this play, here was his response:
“Wide open space. I think the other safety was outside the opposite hash, and the other guy was not even on the field basically. I’m not going to run and get covered. That doesn’t sound like a good idea.”
He then confirmed that his route did not originally dictate that he run into the space that he did. Kittle might not have included his own improvisation in that week’s install, but the result produced points which is what matters at the end of the day:
“It was funny too, I think Coach Shanahan, Thursday morning, because we ran that route on Wednesday, he coached it on Thursday morning, he goes ‘even if there is space you gotta run across the field so the post is wide open’ and I was like ehhh... Touchdown!”
In the postgame presser Kittle said he “Grinch’d” this ball from Ray-Ray McCloud— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) June 29, 2023
Said his route dictated that he cross the field to get the post to McCloud open
He took the open space in front of him instead
“Well I’m not going to run and get covered, that’s not a good idea” pic.twitter.com/IkHhUsdFQo
Kittle’s second touchdown of the day came on a play action concept called “FK ZAP STAY KEEP LT SHALLOW Y”. It’s a run fake to the right side that has the quarterback keep and boot to the left, with the tight end running a shallow cross to the same side.
Purdy was able to connect with Kittle, who once again flashed his dynamic ability after the catch, taking it in the remaining 27 yards for a 49ers touchdown to push the lead to double digits:
George Kittle’s 2nd touchdown of the day— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) December 27, 2022
Looks like “FK 18 ZAP STAY KEEP LT Y SHALLOW”
Washington bit hard on the run action and Purdy was able to hit his primary read to Kittle on the shallow cross pic.twitter.com/iU28sKT74H
His fourth reception of the game came on an interesting call. Shanahan dialed up a shovel option with a backside guard pull, with Purdy opting to hit his tight end for a solid gain between the tackles:
Shovel option with a BSG pull pic.twitter.com/PAPbTGlroo— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) December 28, 2022
His sixth and final catch of the day came in a clutch spot. The 49ers had the ball up 10 with three minutes remaining, facing a 4th & 1 from Washington’s 11-yard line. With the Commanders dialing pressure up the middle, Purdy was forced to get the ball out under a bit of duress.
That led to a throw that was behind Kittle, forcing the star tight end to halt his momentum and come back across his body to secure the 10-yard reception that effectively iced this football game:
10 yard gain on 4th & 3 that effectively iced this game— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) June 29, 2023
Kittle does a fantastic job to come back to a ball that was thrown behind him and secure the catch for the game sealing first down pic.twitter.com/VKUEd3ix9I
In a game they had to have, Kittle’s performance, particularly in the second half, was a big reason the 49ers could pull away and secure a victory. Remember, it was a 7-7 tie at halftime, and Washington certainly had the makeup of a team tough enough to grit out an upset over a superior opponent.
Kittle and the 49ers didn’t allow that to happen. Here was his final stat line on the day
50 Yards After Catch
4.62 Yards Per Route Run
5 first downs
158.3 passer rating when targeted