How George Kittle, 49ers won the Game of the Year vs. Saints

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The league’s top-heavy this year, and six teams have 10 or 11 wins heading into the last three weeks. Two of those teams, Seattle and San Francisco, are in the NFC West, and one could finish 13-3 and face nothing but road games to get to the Super Bowl. Entering Sunday, Seattle and San Francisco were 10-2, but Seattle had the tiebreaker edge, so the Niners were ensconced as a wild card as they took the Superdome field. “Kyle talked to us about that before the game,” Kittle told me. “Technically, we were the fifth seed. But we’ve got our destiny in our hands. We knew that.”

The game was insane. Each team scored four times in the first half, four times in the second. It was 28-27, Niners, at the half. After halftime, the teams ping-ponged points: Saints first, then Niners, Saints, Niners, Saints, Niners, and then, with 53 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Saints, on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Tre’Quan Smith to make it 46-45, New Orleans. No one open on the two-point conversion pass. So if San Francisco could kick a field goal, that’d end it.

Brees, by the way, was stupendous in a performance that left him two touchdown passes shy of breaking Peyton Manning’s all-time touchdown record of 539. Five touchdowns, no interceptions. How many more games like this he has left a month shy of turning 41 I do not know. But this one, with the stakes involved, was an all-timer for him. On that go-ahead TD, he saw a huge mismatch—Smith isolated on middle ‘backer Fred Warner—and zipped the ball onto Smith for an easy TD. Or at least Brees made it looks easy, as he so often does.

So many Saints have been in this spot before, playing in front of a howling crowd with games and divisions and playoff berths on the line. Brees and Cam Jordan and Thomas Morstead and Terron Armstead, and even some of the young guys like Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. But most of the Niners were brand new to it. Garoppolo looked affected in the Monday night loss a month ago, misfiring in key spots and missing a few open receivers. Not Sunday. He and Brees each threw for 349 yards with a QB rating over 130. Jimmy G played on the Brees stage, in the Brees house, and acquitted himself quite well. And I’d have written that regardless of what happened in the last 39 seconds in New Orleans.

Thirty-nine seconds left. Aaah, this was different now: Shanahan bunched three receivers just outside the left tackle: Kendrick Bourne the tip of the spear, with Emmanuel Sanders to his left and a full step back, and Kittle slightly right and behind Bourne. You could see what Shanahan had in mind. Bourne and Sanders would clear out for Kittle, and unless Saints defensive coordinator decided to double Kittle, Garoppolo would make Kittle the first read. At the snap, Bourne ran hard up the left seam, and Sanders did a five-yard crossing route, left to right. And there was one man, rookie safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, guarding Kittle, with safety Marcus Williams about 10 yards upfield protecting over the top if Kittle beat the kid.

“On the Choice route,” Kittle said, “you just motion over [from right to left, into the formation], and if it’s man, I line up behind Emmanuel and KB and they clean it out for me. The guy covering me sat pretty far inside. ‘Choice’ means I can break in, or break out. With him sitting inside, [Gardner-Johnson] basically made the decision for me, so I broke out.”

Kittle, on third down, hadn’t gotten inside Gardner-Johnson, who broke up the short pass from Garoppolo to make it fourth-and-two. But on the fourth down call, Shanahan was right to call time and switch the play. The wideouts cleared out the space and forced the Saints into man coverage on Kittle. Garoppolo led him perfectly and hit Kittle precisely at the first-down mark, the 35-yard line. Gardner-Johnson dove at Kittle’s legs. He missed. Kittle turned upfield along the left sideline.

Kittle was unchallenged till midfield. Williams reached and unintentionally grabbed Kittle’s facemask with his right hand, and Kittle became a bucking maniac. He reminded me of Mark Bavaro in that 1986 Giants-49ers game, carrying Ronnie Lott for 12 yards and needing three Niners to bring him down. Funny thing: Kittle wasn’t upset that Williams gabbed and tugged the mask. “I knew he’d get flagged for it, so I was actually happy—it just meant 15 more yards for us,’’ he said.

“So,” I said, “what’s going through your mind as this guys grabbing your facemask and not letting go, and two other guys join in to try to take you down? You remember?”

“Get as many yards as I can, and hold onto the damn football.”

From the contact/facemask-hold by Williams till three Saints hogtied him down: 20 yards.

The gain: 39 yards. Add the 14 yards (half the distance to the goal line) for the facemask call, and San Francisco had first-and-10 at the Saints’ 14.

The little fourth-and-two gambit—Shanahan’s last-millisecond timeout, the efficient and necessary Bourne and Sanders clearout, and the 37-yard Kittle run, looking like a bull rider in one of those Texas bars—netted 53 yards. Fifty-three yards! Not bad for a guy who’d caught only 48 balls in four years at Iowa before the Niners saw something athletic and tough in him in the scouting process.

“It was pretty fun,” Kittle said.

“Your biggest play ever?” I asked.

“With what was at stake, probably.”

The Niners’ bench went nuts on the play. “Most people would go down and complain to the refs about the facemask,” Richard Sherman said. “He was like, I’m going to bully you all the way to the end zone or until you stop me. We don’t win the game without that play.”

Shanahan was already thinking of what to call after the fourth-and-two conversion. “Kittle took care of that,” he said.

Robbie Gould’s 30-yard field goal at :00 won it.

“Football’s the best thing in the world,” Kittle said, practically gushing over the phone from Louisiana. (I was gushing too, after that ridiculous game.) “What this means to us, what it means to the Saints, what it means to the fans, who were incredible. The team aspect of the game, the way everyone here feels like a part of something special . . . that’s what it is—special. Now, we’ve got 24 hours to celebrate this bad boy. Then we’re onto next week. I can’t wait to play more football back in San Francisco.”

Interesting road now. With the Seattle loss at the Rams on Sunday night, San Francisco takes over first place and the top NFC seed at 11-2. The Falcons and Rams come to Santa Clara in the next two weeks, while 10-3 Seattle is at Carolina and home to Arizona in the next two weeks. There’s a real chance the San Francisco-at-Seattle game in Week 17 could be immense. The division title, a first-round bye and the dreaded five seed all could be at stake Dec. 29 at CenturyLink Field. That game might mean more than the one Sunday in New Orleans, but I have no idea how it could be any more fun and compelling.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here. 

What to know about Super Bowl 2023: Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more

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The NFL playoffs are in full swing and Super Bowl 2023 will be here before we know it! See below for answers to all of your questions about the big game. Be sure to tune to NBC and Peacock every week for Sunday Night Football games this season and extra content from Mike Florio, Matthew Berry, Chris Simms and more.

RELATED: When do the 2022 NFL Playoffs start: dates, schedule, playoff format, overtime rules, and more

Four teams are left heading into the Conference Championships and only two will make it to Super Bowl LVII. Ahead of this weekend, here’s everything you need to know about the biggest game of the NFL season.

RELATED: 2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

When is Super Bowl 2023?

Super Bowl 2023 takes place on Sunday, February 12 at 6:30 p.m. ET on Fox.

Where is Super Bowl 2023?

Super Bowl 2023 will be contested at State Farm Stadium–home of the Arizona Cardinals– in Glendale, Arizona.

Who is performing the halftime show at Super Bowl 2023?

It was announced in September, that international popstar, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Rihanna will headline the halftime show at Super Bowl 2023.

RELATED: How to watch Matthew Berry on NBC Sports

When was the last time Rihanna released an album?

Rihanna’s most recent album “Anti” came out in 2016. The Barbados native has spent the last few years venturing into various business industries including beauty, fashion, and makeup. Additionally, the superstar welcomed her first child, a boy, in May of 2022.

Why does the NFL use Roman numerals?

AFL and Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt proposed using Roman numerals for each Super Bowl to add pomp and gravitas to the game. Roman numerals were, unsurprisingly, used in ancient Rome as a number system. I stands for 1, V for 5, X for 10, L for 50 and C for 100. That’s right: In 2066, get ready for Super Bowl C.

Super Bowl V was the first to use Roman numerals. They were retroactively added to the Super Bowl II to IV logos and have been used each year since⁠ until 2016. For Super Bowl L, or 50, the NFL tried out 73 different logos before breaking down and using a plain old “50.”

The Roman numerals for this year’s big game, Super Bowl 57, are LVII.

Which NFL team has the most Super Bowl wins in NFL history?

The Patriots and Steelers are not only familiar with playing on the big stage, but they also know what it takes to come out on top. New England and Pittsburgh are tied for the most Super Bowl victories in the NFL with six each. The San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys have won five Lombardi Trophies each and the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants are tied with four Super Bowl championships.

  • New England Patriots: 6
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: 6
  • San Francisco 49ers: 5
  • Dallas Cowboys: 5
  • Green Bay Packers: 4
  • New York Giants: 4

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

What devices are compatible with Peacock?

Peacock is available on a variety of devices. See the full list here.

In addition to Sunday Night Football, what else can I watch with Peacock Premium?

Premium is your key to unlocking everything Peacock has to offer. You’ll get access to all the live sports and events we have, including Premier League and WWE Premium Live Events like WrestleMania. You’ll also get full seasons of exclusive Peacock Original series, next-day airings of current NBC and Telemundo hits, plus every movie and show available on Peacock. There is always something new to discover on Peacock Premium.

Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!

2023 NFL Playoffs: What to know about SF QB Brock Purdy Ahead of NFC Championship game

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The NFC crown is up for grabs on Sunday, and it will be Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles squaring off with Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers to secure a ticket to Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona. These two high-powered teams have both had seasons for the storybooks, but possibly no story this year has been greater than that of “Mr. Irrelevant’s” emergence.

From the 262nd pick in the draft to a third-string quarterbacking role, the odds of Purdy making a splash in the NFL seemed all but impossible at the start of the season. But just months later, the 23-year-old finds himself captaining one of the league’s most storied franchises on a playoff run in hopes of bringing a sixth Lombardi home to the Bay.

The 49ers will take on the Eagles in the NFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 29 at 3 p.m. EST. Let’s take a closer look at Purdy’s emergence from “Mr. Irrelevant” to QB1.

RELATED: 49ers vs. Eagles NFC Championship matchup, series history

Where did Brock Purdy go to college?

Before Purdy was a Niner, he was first an Iowa State Cyclone.

In fact, Purdy rose to stardom in Ames much like he is now doing in San Francisco. Purdy entered the picture at Iowa State as the third-string quarterback, in line for field time behind quarterbacks Kyle Kempt and Zeb Nolan.

The season-opener, however, shook things up. Kempt suffered an MCL injury against Iowa, bumping up Nolan to the role of signal-caller. Nolan then saw a rough three-game stretch, forcing ISU coach Matt Campbell to give the freshman Purdy an opportunity.

Purdy would take this opportunity and run with it. He first entered the scene mid-game against Oklahoma State, leading the Cyclones to a thrilling victory over the Cowboys as they edged them out, 48-42. Purdy was now the man for Iowa State.

In his four-year career, Purdy was simply a winner. He finished his time in Ames as Iowa State’s career leader in passing yards (12,170), total offense (13,347), touchdown passes (81), completions (993), passing efficiency (151.1) and completion percentage (67.7). The wide-eyed freshman with an opportunity developed into the winningest quarterback in Cyclones history (30-17).

RELATED: Eagles DC warned 49ers of ‘electric’ atmosphere at the Linc

Jalen Hurts vs Brock Purdy collegiate record

Sunday’s Conference Championship will not be the first time that Jalen Hurts and Brock Purdy have gone head-to-head. The Cyclones faced off with the Oklahoma Sooners in November of 2019.

While the senior Hurts and his offense diced up Iowa State’s defense early, Purdy would charge his team to a comeback from the 35-14 halftime deficit. Purdy led an epic resurgence coming out of the locker room, outscoring the Sooners 27-7. A savvy drive from the sophomore late in the fourth resulted in a 33-yard touchdown to Sean Shaw Jr., cutting the deficit to 42-35 with three minutes remaining.

On the ensuing drive, Hurts made a disastrous mistake, throwing a pass into traffic that was picked off by Lawrence White. With the ball at the Oklahoma 35, Purdy could not be stopped, pulling off a few impressive plays before connecting with Charlie Kolar in the end zone.

The scoreboard now read 42-41, and the Cyclones wanted to end the game right then and there. Purdy dropped back for the two-point conversion, throwing a dart to La’Michael Pettway. The pass hit Pettway’s hands, but was then knocked away by Oklahoma defenders. While the epic comeback could not be completed, it was a game to be remembered.

RELATED: Brock Purdy views time at Iowa State as ‘blessing in disguise’

When was Brock Purdy drafted?

Brock Purdy found a home in San Francisco on Saturday, April 30 when he was selected by the 49ers as the 262nd pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. As Melanie Salata held up the “Mr. Irrelevant” jersey on the NFL Draft stage, no one knew that the name on the back of it would rise to relevance so quickly.

The seventh-round pick was passed over by nearly every NFL team, except for one. Not even the 49ers knew that this selection would hold so much magnitude, as Purdy was merely expected to be a third-string rookie sitting behind starter Trey Lance and backup Nate Sudfeld.

RELATED: CMC vows to be ready for NFC title game despite calf discomfort

How has Brock Purdy fared as an NFL starter?

San Francisco’s blueprint at the beginning of the season would be thrown out the door very quickly. The 49ers made the decision in late August to retain veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and release Sudfeld, allowing Purdy to remain in his third-string role.

When Lance suffered a crushing injury against the Seahawks in just the second game of the season, it seemed clear that Garoppolo was destined to lead the team to its third playoff appearance in four years. Garoppolo would go 6-3 in his next nine starts, making Super Bowl aspirations once again very real for the team that lost the big game just three years prior.

In a critical battle against the Miami Dolphins in Week 12, however, that vision faded. Garoppolo suffered a broken foot on the final play of the team’s opening drive, and “Mr. Irrelevant” was now QB1.

Purdy’s first drive of the game ended in a 3-yard touchdown pass to fullback Kyle Juszczyk to give San Francisco a 10-7 lead. As with his starting role in Iowa State, Purdy has yet to look back.

RELATED: Brock Purdy’s PFF grades show how well he operates under pressure

He drove the team to a 33-17 victory over Miami, finishing the day 25 for 37 for 210 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His starting debut came the next week, against none other than the great Tom Brady.

The rookie tore through Tampa Bay, becoming the first quarterback to ever defeat Brady in his first start. The game ended with an emotional hug from his father, who had witnessed his son take down a quarterback who has been playing pro football longer than Brock has been alive.

Purdy remains undefeated as an NFL starter. Since taking over in Week 13, “Mr. Irrelevant” has gone 7-0, with an overtime victory and two playoff triumphs. While many thought the rookie would crumble under postseason pressure, he has yet to let his team down. In the 49ers wild card battle against their division foe Seattle Seahawks, he became the first NFL rookie to score four touchdowns in a playoff game. While the divisional round success over Dallas wasn’t the prettiest victory, Purdy got the job done, advancing his team to the NFC Championship for the second consecutive year.

Will Brock Purdy play in NFC Championship game?

Now, the seventh rounder will clash with a daunting Philadelphia defense for the conference crown, with aspirations of becoming the first rookie quarterback to ever hoist a Lombardi. On Monday ahead of the Conference Championships, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told media that he’d be “very surprised” if quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was able to play in Sunday’s game, meaning that Purdy is still QB1, with Josh Johnson as the backup.

RELATED: When was the last time the 49ers made it to, won the Super Bowl?

Has a rookie QB ever started in a Super Bowl?

Should the 49ers advance to the Super Bowl, Purdy has a shot to cap an unbelievable season with a particularly remarkable accomplishment: No rookie quarterback has won a Super Bowl, and in fact, no rookie quarterback has ever started in a Super Bowl.

RELATED: Ranking potential Super Bowl LVII matchups

How to watch the Super Bowl 2023

Check out ProFootballTalk for more on the 2023 NFL Playoffs as well as game previews, picks, recaps, news, rumors and more.