"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.
December 8, 2019
In a tense fourth quarter filled with hard-hitting offensive punches, tight end George Kittle delivered the knockout blow.
The 49ers and New Orleans Saints staged a three-ring passing circus at the Superdome, combining for 981 yards of offense and ten scoring passes. Yet, it was the 49ers tight end who supplied the game-changing play allowing San Francisco to escape the Big Easy with a 48-46 victory.
"That was as cool of a game as I've been part of," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said in its aftermath.
The two clubs posted 26 points in the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter. Then, with 53 seconds remaining, the Saints took a 46-45 lead on QB Drew Brees' 18-yard strike to WR Tre'Quan Smith.
That is when Kittle put the 49ers on his back.
After the ensuing kickoff, San Francisco began at its own 25yard line. QB Jimmy Garoppolo connected with Kittle for eight yards then missed on two passes. Facing 4th-and-2 from the 33 and with 39 seconds remaining, Garoppolo found Kittle again, this time in the left flat.
Kittle had already picked up a first down, but the Pro Bowl tight end was looking for more. He raced up the sideline and met DB Marcus Williams near midfield. The Saints' safety barely slowed Kittle's progress. He grabbed and yanked at Kittle's facemask like a steer wrestler trying to bring down a wild bull. The persistent tight end refused to be tackled and he aggressively shoved Williams another 20 yards toward the end zone.
"Our tight end coach [Jon Embree] always says 'don't let one guy tackle you,'" Kittle said in a postgame interview. "That's my mindset. Just try to go through him, try to carry him as far as I can."
The 39-yard pass play coupled with the 15-yard facemask penalty put San Francisco within chip-shot field goal range. Three plays later, kicker Robbie Gould booted a game-winning 30-yarder as time expired.
"Once [Kittle] caught it and turned up field and squared the guy up, I didn't know what he was going to do," Garoppolo said. "But I knew [Williams] was in a bad situation."
Garoppolo completed 26-of-35 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns. Kittle recorded six catches for 67 yards and one score. More importantly, he earned the everlasting respect of his teammates.
Right tackle Mike McGlinchey said, "It took them to almost rip [Kittle's] neck off to bring him down. I mean, he's the best in the world. You can't really say anything other than that."
In 2019, Kittle was named All-Pro and earned his second Pro Bowl berth after posting 85 catches for 1,053 yards. Kittle's first Pro Bowl selection came in 2018 after he set two 49ers receiving records for tight ends. His 88 receptions that season broke Eric Johnson's previous mark of 82 in 2004, and his 1,377 receiving yards topped a franchise record set by Vernon Davis, who had 965 yards in 2009.
Still, the historic relevance of pulling out a last-second victory at the thunderously noisy Superdome was not lost on the over-exuberant Kittle.
"That's definitely one of my favorite places to ever play football," Kittle said. "It was an absolutely insane environment."