The San Francisco 49ers have clawed their way back from the brink, with Sunday's thrilling 26-23 overtime road victory in Cincinnati thrusting Kyle Shanahan's 7-6 club into the No. 6 seed with a one-game buffer over a cluster of six-win teams.
The key element to Sunday's wild win was tight end George Kittle, who made spectacular play after spectacular play after spectacular play after spectacular play after spectacular play after spectacular play ... you get the point.
Kittle caught 13 of 15 targets for 151 yards and a TD, many of them of the "he did what?!?" variety. Whenever Jimmy Garoppolo needed a big play, he looked Kittle's way.
"I know that when coach Shanahan calls my name, I've just got to go out there and execute," Kittle said, via the team's official website. "When you have that opportunity, you've just got to make the play, and fortunately, I made the play more than I didn't make it tonight."
Kittle made a ridiculous leaping grab late in the fourth quarter to set up the potential game-winning field goal. After Robbie Gould's miss forced overtime, Jimmy G looked Kittle's way on a big third down with the Niners trailing in the extra period. The tight end made a sliding grab in traffic on a pinpoint pass to move the chains. The Niners won the game on the next play on a catch and run by Brandon Aiyuk.
"That's a different dude," Aiyuk said of the tight end. "Huge third down plays, just plays all over the field. ... That's a special dude, real special dude."
Added Garoppolo: "George showed out today. He really did. When you have a guy like that you can lean on, it's a nice feeling as a quarterback."
The Niners' resurgence has come since Kittle returned from injury in Week 9, after going 1-2 sans the TE, falling to 3-4 on the season. San Francisco has gone 4-2 with the star TE back in the lineup.
Kittle has spearheaded the offense, particularly the last two weeks. His 13 receptions Sunday are a season high and tied for the second-most in his career. Last week at Seattle, Kittle had nine receptions for 181 yards and two TDs in the loss. He became the first TE in NFL history Sunday to have back-to-back games with 150-plus receiving yards and 1-plus receiving TD -- the last WR to accomplish the feat was Mike Evans in Weeks 8-9, 2019.
Kittle leads the NFL in receiving TDs since he returned from injured reserve in Week 9 with 6, a career high for a single campaign.
The Bengals found out just how difficult it can be to slow down the Iowa product.
"When a guy is that explosive, and that big, that good of hands, that catch radius, he makes a lot of plays. And I promise you, we tried like hell to take him away, and he just finds a way to make those plays," coach Zac Taylor lamented after the loss.
With the victory, the Niners moved into the No. 6 seed in the NFC with four games to go. With a dominant defensive front and a diverse offense, it's the type of San Francisco team we expected to see entering the season. With games against the Falcons, Titans, Texans and Rams remaining, stacking a few more victories would push Kittle & Co. back into the postseason.