SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Getting a Twitter follow from Travis Kelce was one of the major accomplishments this season for San Francisco 49ers second-year tight end George Kittle.
Now heading into the final game of the season, Kittle is in a race with Kelce for the most productive season ever for a tight end.
Kelce goes into Kansas City’s season finale against Oakland with 1,274 yards receiving, the fourth-most ever for a tight end. He needs 54 yards against the Raiders to break the mark set by New England’s Rob Gronkowski in 2011.
But Kelce might need more than that to hold off Kittle, who goes into San Francisco’s finale against the Los Angeles Rams with 1,228 yards on the season and a chance to pass not only Gronkowski but also Kelce with a big game.
Kelce and Kittle have put up their huge numbers this season in very different ways. Kelce is more a downfield threat, with his average catch coming 7.5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, a number comparable to some of the most productive receivers in the league like Antonio Brown and Michael Thomas.
Kittle does most of his work after the catch, gaining an average of 9.8 yards after making the catch — a number surpassed only by four running backs who make their average catch in the backfield.
Kittle has 775 yards in all after the catch, trailing only Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey with 824. The only other players since at least 2010 with more yards after the catch in a season are Le’Veon Bell (816 in 2014) and Matt Forte (788 in 2014).
“The thing he is doing better, that I can say he has done better than any tight end I have had, is what he is doing after the catch,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He does a good job beating man coverage, and does a good job in his routes and does a great job blocking. But when that ball is in the air, the play is just starting. He is trying to catch it. He runs angry and runs confidently, that he expects to score on every look.”
Here’s a look inside some more interesting numbers heading into Week 17:
SPLENDID START: Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield heads into the final week with 24 TD passes, the second-most ever for a rookie. Mayfield needs three TD passes this week to break the record set by Peyton Manning in 1998.
RECORD RECEPTIONS: McCaffrey and Philadelphia tight end Zach Ertz have already set receiving records. McCaffrey’s 106 receptions this season are the most ever by a running back, beating the mark of 102 for Forte in 2014. McCaffrey has also joined Forte and Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson (2003) as the only players with at least 1,000 yards rushing and 100 catches in a single season.
Ertz has 113 catches already this season, breaking the record of 110 set by Jason Witten in 2012.
RUN TO DAYLIGHT: Running the ball has never been easier in the NFL, with the average carry going for 4.42 yards per attempt. That would be the highest mark for a season in the NFL since at least 1940. The previous high was 4.29 ypc in 2011. This season is also on pace for the fewest rush attempts per game with just 25.9, a tick below the 26.0 mark set in 2016.
DOMINANT PATS: Few teams have ever had a run as dominant as the one by the New England Patriots under coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots won their 10th straight AFC East title, setting a record for most consecutive playoff berths, and have tied San Francisco (1983-98) for the most consecutive 10-win seasons with 16. New England has 199 wins the past 16 years, 35 more than the second-place Steelers. That gap is bigger than the difference between Pittsburgh and 16th-place Cincinnati with 131.
UNDRAFTED GEM: Denver running back Phillip Lindsay passed the 1,000-yard rushing mark last week, joining Dominic Rhodes and LaGarrette Blount as the only undrafted rookies to top 1,000 in a season in the Super Bowl era. Lindsay has 1,037 yards on the season but will end up 68 yards shy of breaking Rhodes’ record set in 2001 for Indianapolis after being sidelined by a wrist injury in Week 16.
TAKE IT AWAY: The 49ers are on pace for the worst season when it comes to takeaways in NFL history. Even after recovering two fumbles last week, the Niners have just seven takeaways on the season. The record for the fewest is 11, last done by Chicago in 2016.
RETURN TO SENDER: Few plays are as exhilarating as a punt or kick returned for a touchdown. Unfortunately, it’s almost never been harder to do that. Heading into the final weekend of the season, there have been just 12 return TDs on kicks or punts, tied for the fewest in a 16-game season with 12 in 1979. There have been seven punt return TDs and five on kicks this season. As recently as 2007, when kickoffs came from the 30-yard line instead of the 35, there were 42 return touchdowns across the league.
THIRD DOWN D: The Bengals have allowed opponents to convert half of their third-down chances into first downs. That’s the worst mark since at last 1991. The worst team on record was the 1995 Cleveland Browns, who allowed a 49.6 per cent conversion rate with Belichick as coach.