49ers TE George Kittle has no regrets about 'stealing' WR Ray-Ray McCloud's touchdown as his chemistry with QB Brock Purdy grows

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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

49ers tight end George Kittle left a football version of a lump of coal in one of his teammate’s socks on Saturday, and he doesn’t seem the least bit sorry he did it.

Kittle caught two touchdown passes in the 49ers’ 37-20 win over the Washington Commanders on Saturday, but the first one wasn’t supposed to go to him. It was for wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, but Kittle broke through and caught it, giving him a 34-yard touchdown run that put the 49ers up 14-7 over the Commanders early in the third quarter.

Video of the play shows Kittle and McCloud running to where Purdy threw the ball, but Kittle beat McCloud on the play, while McCloud was left wondering where Kittle came from and what he was doing.

Kittle, McCloud, Purdy and coach Kyle Shanahan told the same story after the game – that the play was set up to go to McCloud and was played by McCloud, but that Kittle saw an opening and went for it. Kittle openly admitted after the game that he (in his words) “squealed” McCloud on the play, but he seemed to be perfectly fine with it.

“I think I’ve had five touchdowns scored on penalties, so I’m going to take them whenever they’re available,” Kittle said.

Shanahan told reporters that Kittle “intercepted” McCloud’s pass and that, thankfully, McCloud didn’t try to do the same.

“Kittle should go across the field,” Shanahan said. “Ray-Ray was supposed to run a post. The middle of the field was wide open. Kittle’s natural reaction was to go into wide open places. I think that’s probably why Brock hesitated a quick second – because it looked weird with two guys there. But he still let it rip. I’m glad Ray-Ray didn’t try to intercept him at that point.

The touchdown would have been the second of the game for McCloud, who scored on a 71-yard run in the first half. But he had no problem with Kittle getting the score and made the wise decision not to compete with Kittle for the pass and possibly interrupt a great play.

“I saw him a little bit earlier so I was like ‘Damn George, where are you going?’ But he was a little closer to me so I wasn’t going to jump him to get it and then the ball was all over the place,” McCloud said in his post-match media session. “But like I said, I’m a guy who prioritizes the team. It’s not me in victory. And that’s about it – getting that W at the end of the day.”

The video shows McCloud wrapping his arms around Kittle after the catch, which Kittle thought at first was a quarterback trying to make a play on the ball. But Kittle quickly figured out it was McCloud and from there made it clear he was sorry/not sorry he threw the touchdown.

“When he went over my shoulder, I thought it was the safety trying to clear the ball,” said Kittle. “It really freaked me out. Then he was in my ear saying, ‘You stole my touchdown.’ I was like, ‘Ahh, sorry’ – not really.”

Kittle finished Saturday’s game with six catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. It was the best statistical performance of the year for Kittle, who has 10 receptions for 213 yards and four touchdowns in the last two games after going through a dry spell for much of the mid-season. Kittle’s performances over the past two weeks suggest he is building a strong relationship with Purdy, who has been keen to involve Kittle in the forward since replacing the injured Jimmy Garoppolo on Dec. 4.

“He told me he was going to feed me and that’s what he’s been doing,” Kittle said. “He’s just bringing the ball to us. He’s great with football. He puts it on target. He lets the guys run with it. He’s super experienced in the backfield, he makes the guys miss. His confidence is through the roof right now, and I don’t know why it wouldn’t be. He’s playing very well. I think he has a very good command of that attack.”

Purdy said Saturday that he knows Kittle has the ability to score on any catch, which is why he makes sure to keep Kittle top of mind whenever he’s in a position to make a play.

“It makes my job easier,” Purdy said. “He wins the man-on-man clashes. Obviously, his speed and everything, just get the ball to the guy, he’s going to take off. George is extremely explosive – more than people think. He does a great job with the yardage afterwards. from the reception. So that’s where my mindset is – whatever play we come up with, I’m going to do it throughout my progression, but I know that if I pass the ball to George, it could be an explosive (play).

The connection between Purdy and Kittle is a case of opposites attracting, at least when you consider that the two went to rival schools (Iowa State for Purdy, Iowa for Kittle). The two joked about their rivalry on Saturday, saying that Kittle could have thrown a late third touchdown if the two hadn’t gone to rival colleges.

“I would say if he didn’t go for Iowa State he would have led me on the last play and it would have been a touchdown, but I’m going to let it go because it’s Christmas,” said Kittle. “But bless his heart, he’s playing at such a high level.”

Purdy said, “I wish I could have made him catch that third touchdown. I played a little short, but I don’t get a Hawkeye that many touchdowns in one game.”

But Kittle and Purdy are clearly on the same page right now, which is great news for the 49ers as they head into the postseason. Kittle has been a positive presence for Purdy and the other players off the field, and in recent weeks he has been reminding everyone of what he is capable of when given his chances.

“Kittle’s energy and what he brings to the team every day, what he just says to the team and stuff in terms of keeping everything loose – I feel like when (there are) moments where we feel tense and what no, Kittle is like the guy to put a smile on your face and say, ‘Hey, we’re good enough,'” Purdy said. “So we’re really lucky to have him in our dressing room. He brings energy and good vibes to everybody. Honestly, I feel like he puts us back in a play zone. That’s what he does, and I think he is the best of the NFL with his personality and everything, so we love George.”

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