When the San Francisco 49ers take the field today as the road team against the Arizona Cardinals, they will do so without running back Raheem Mostert, cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Jimmie Ward, to name a few.
But for the first time in awhile, they will do so with tight end George Kittle.
“He looked great this week,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “Just talked to him, said he felt good here after practice, so I’m expecting him to go.”
According to Kittle, that talk was short, sweet and to the point.
“He asked me if I wanted to play, and I said, ‘Hell, yes,’ said Kittle. “And he said, ‘Sounds good.’ And that was our conversation.”
Kittle has missed the last six games since fracturing a bone in his right foot in the 49ers’ Nov. 1 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. San Francisco went 1-5 in that span.
“…I’m feeling really good, excited to be back on the field,” Kittle said this week on a Zoom call with the media. “I’ve missed football. Sitting out for six weeks is not very fun…I’m just going to go out there and play the game to the best of my ability, as many plays as they let me play, and we’ll go from there.”
With a record of 5-9, the 49ers are out of playoff contention, but it’s still a no-brainer for Shanahan to put one of his healthiest and best players on the field.
“…[H]e’s in the same situation every single other person is on our roster and he’s probably one of the healthiest guys we have right now,” Shanahan said. “The freshest, had two good weeks of practice, feels great after it. So, we wouldn’t put him out at all if there was any risk of re-injuring this or he wasn’t healed, but we’ve got a lot of guys going out there and everyone’s got stuff on the line every time they step out, whether you have two games left and you’re not in the playoffs or whether it’s the first game of the year. That’s what these guys do and if they’re healthy enough to do it, that’s what you do on our team.”
Earlier this season, Kittle missed two weeks with a knee injury suffered in the 49ers Week One loss to the Cardinals. Injuries derailed San Francisco’s season early and with two weeks left, Kittle is happy to have the opportunity to finish on a high note.
“…I have a very sour taste in my mouth,” Kittle said. “I hate losing football games and I hate it when I don’t perform at a high level. And so, adding on an injury is not very fun…[T]he fact that I get two opportunities, especially against division opponents, and let them know that I’m still here and I will be for multiple years to come. I’m really excited about that, to get this chance to play the next two weeks.”
Beyond the injuries, the 49ers were forced to leave Santa Clara and have spent the last several weeks living, practicing and playing in Glendale, Arizona. This season has seen a lot things throughout the league, and everyone has had to roll with it, but that’s what they do.
“5-9, watching the last six games from a booth while in Arizona? o, I don’t think I would have believed you guys,” said Kittle. “I would have said you’re pulling my leg. I mean, that’s how football is, though. You’ve got ups and downs. That’s why it’s the best sport. You have the highest of highs, you have the lowest of lows, and you’ve just got to get through it and that’s what you do as a football team…I think we have guys that play their hearts out, and we’re not getting all the wins that we want to get, but we have a lot of guys, a lot of leaders, captains that aren’t playing right now, and that’s really hard for us.
“And so, I’m proud of the team and proud of the fight that we have…[W]e’ve got two more games left, and this team’s going to look pretty different next year. I’m excited for that, but I’m also excited to play these two games, and like I said, give some teams some fits. It’s going to be pretty fun.”
*Photos provided by 49ers.com