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49ers vs. Rams: San Francisco Week 17 Game Balls & Highlights

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San Francisco 49ers vs. Chicago Bears Week 17 game balls highlights George Kittle
© Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

We hand out one final game ball to San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle from the Niners’ 48-32 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17 of the 2018 NFL regular season.

On yesterday’s Locked On 49ers Podcast, host Brian Peacock provided a rundown of the Niners’ game — including game notes and key takeaways — and handed out a single game ball from the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

San Francisco’s finale of the 2018 regular season was essentially over before it began, as the 49ers turned the ball over four times in their first five possessions, including three interceptions by first-year quarterback Nick Mullens. However, that didn’t mean Niner fans didn’t have anything to root for on Sunday. San Francisco had draft positioning on the line, and 49ers tight end George Kittle had a pair of records to break — one of which was 14 years old, while the other was set less than an hour prior.

The 49ers would go on to lose the game and secure the second overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and Kittle would break both records, which earns him our single 49ers game ball from Week 17:

49ers TE George Kittle

Kittle began the final week of the 2018 NFL season within striking distance of two significant records: the 49ers’ franchise record for receptions by a tight end in a season, and the NFL’s record for single-season receiving yards by a tight end. Kittle matched 49ers tight end Eric Johnson‘s 2004 record of 82 receptions early in the first quarter of the game, but the Niners’ top receiver wouldn’t break the NFL record until the 49ers’ final offensive play of the day.

When Sunday’s game began, the record was held by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who recorded 1,327 receiving yards in his sophomore season in 2011. However, Gronk’s receiving record was soon broken by Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who amassed 1,336 receiving yards over the course of 2018. Unfortunately for Kelce, he would hold the honor for less than an hour.

The 49ers began their final drive of the season with less than three minutes on the clock. Kittle began the possession with 1,328 receiving yards — one yard more than Gronkowski in his top season, but eight yards short of Kelce’s new record. Three weeks after failing to give Kittle a second-half opportunity to break the NFL’s single-game record for receiving yards by a tight end, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

On first down, Shanahan isolated Kittle on the right side of the field. With two Rams defenders focused on the receiver, Kittle was able to take a short pass from Mullens for a 6-yard gain. Needing just three yards to break Kelce’s record, everyone knew Mullens would look for his favorite receiver on second down.

Shanahan lined Kittle up in the slot, before motioning wide receiver Richie James tight to the formation, opening the left flat for the tight end. Kittle ran a short out route, and Rams cornerback Sam Shields quickly broke on the pass as soon as it left Mullens’ hand. Shields was late on the ball, which Kittle corralled two yards from the line-of-scrimmage. The second-year tight end had a yard to gain for a spot in the NFL record books — but merely breaking a record and running out-of-bounds isn’t Kittle’s style, or what has made the former fifth-round draft pick a fan favorite in San Francisco. Instead, Kittle capped off his historic season with a perfect ending, as he blew past the Rams’ defense for a 43-yard touchdown score:

Listen to Locked On 49ers host Brian Peacock’s review of the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams — including game notes and key takeaways from the Niners’ final game of the 2018 NFL season — on yesterday’s Rapid React podcast:

Chris Wilson is the Lead Writer for Locked on 49ers, a FanRag Sports network partner. You may have seen Chris’ work on NFL game theory, statistical analysis and film breakdowns at FanSided, NinerNoise, 49erswebzone, Insidethe49 and others. Follow Chris on Twitter @cgawilson.

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