How George Kittle’s incredible catch keyed 49ers rally, ultimately led to win

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — George Kittle always has a flair for theatrics.

Immersed in a bruising battle with the Dallas Cowboys, with the game tied midway through the third quarter, the San Francisco 49ers‘ star tight end pulled off one of those acrobatic plays he has a knack for making when games are on the line.

On first-and-10 from San Francisco’s 21-yard line, rookie quarterback Brock Purdy rolled left. But with his first two options covered, Purdy threw back over the middle of the field (an NFL no-no) and found a streaking Kittle being chased by Cowboys defensive tackle Neville Gallimore.

Purdy appeared to lead him too much, but Kittle extended an outstretched paw. He tapped the ball back to himself and it bounced off his facemask. Kittle then managed to track the ball down for a 30-yard gain, ducking down before getting walloped by cornerback Trevon Diggs.

Kittle was the last read in the progression but ran down the seam to find space when Purdy looked for another option.

‘Everyone did their part’ — Brock Purdy and George Kittle speak with Erin Andrews after advancing to the NFC Championship

Erin Andrews spoke with George Kittle and Brock Purdy after the San Francisco 49ers’ win against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Playoffs.

“I was just trying to be dramatic,” deadpanned Kittle afterwards. “It was just for TV, trying to get the ratings up.”

Purdy had a different view.

“It seemed like it was 10 seconds of bobbling, and I was like, ‘Dude, c’mon man,'” Purdy said, smiling. “But he came down with it.”

The play ignited a scuffling San Francisco offense. Seven plays later, Kittle celebrated on the ground as he coaxed a defensive holding penalty on Dallas safety Donovan Wilson.

Three plays later, running back Christian McCaffrey capped the drive with a two-yard run for a score, tossing the ball over his head in celebration as San Francisco took a lead they would never relinquish.

And there was Kittle, tracking the ball down like a punt, waving his hand for the fair catch and then handing the ball to the greatest to ever do it — Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, watching from the stands.

“Why not?” said Kittle about his touchdown celebration. “And then I saw Jerry, and I said, ‘Jerry Rice gets the football.'”

That touchdown helped the 49ers advance to the NFC Championship game next week (3:00 p.m. ET next Sunday on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

Kittle led the charge on offense, finishing with a team-high five catches for 95 yards. He remains Purdy’s security blanket. Since Mr. Irrelevant took over at quarterback, Kittle has a team-leading 31 receptions for 447 receiving yards and seven scores.

Speaking of the Iowa State product, he improved to 7-0 as a starter since taking over for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13. And he joined Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez as he only rookie quarterbacks to win two playoff starts.

Purdy finished 19-of-29 passing for 214 yards. While Purdy didn’t put up gaudy numbers, he also did not turn the ball over. That’s a recurring theme.

“In playoff football — or any game really — you can’t be throwing the ball (away) or fumbling, anything like that,” Purdy said. “When so much is on the line and everyone is playing their best football, every drive and every moment matters.”

With the victory, the 49ers advanced to their third NFC championship in the last four years under head coach Kyle Shanahan. San Francisco leaned on its defense in this one, holding Dak Prescott and a talented Dallas offense to one touchdown, 12 total points and 282 total yards.

The 49ers forced two Prescott interceptions and held Dallas to a Brett Maher 25-yard field goal when Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled a punt deep in their own territory early in the second half.

Defensively, Dallas did a great job shutting down San Francisco’s vaunted running game. But the 49ers stuck with it, grinding out 113 rushing yards, with most of that coming in the second half.

“Some of those early, two-to-three-yard runs late in the game turned into four-to-eight-yard runs, and that’s a big deal,” said McCaffrey, who finished with 57 scrimmage yards. “So sticking with it is important.”

49ers running. back Christian McCaffrey bursts past the Cowboys for a touchdown

Christian McCaffrey’s rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter helped seal a playoff victory against the Dallas Cowboys.

San Francisco heads to Philadelphia riding a 12-game winning streak and looking to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2019 season.

“It’s going to be wonderful,” Kittle said about next week’s game. “You know how much the fans in Philly love the opposing team and their fans. It’s going to be cold and violent. It’s going to be a blast.” 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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