Photo: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press
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The first day of George Kittle’s offseason went as well as his regular season.
On Monday, a day after he set the NFL’s season record for yards by a tight end in a Week 17 loss to the Rams, Kittle was named the 49ers’ winner of the Bill Walsh Award, a honor voted on by the coaches. It is given to the player who best represents Walsh’s standard of professional excellence.
Kittle finished with 1,377 yards on 88 catches and had five touchdowns. His reception total ranks 19th among tight ends in NFL history. And his yards per reception (15.6) ranks seven among tight ends with at least 40 receptions in a season.
However, it’s his record-breaking yardage total that had the 49ers celebrating near the end of a 48-32 loss to the Rams.
On Monday, head coach Kyle Shanahan detailed how much it meant to Kittle’s teammates for him to secure the record. Kittle needed nine yards to pass Kansas City’s Travis Kelce when the Rams had the ball with about three minutes left. Shanahan called two timeouts in an effort to get the ball back and exhorted the defense. Safety Antone Exum responded by blitzing on his own.
“I said ‘Hey, guys, if you can stop them here we will throw the ball and get Kittle nine more yards,’” Shanahan said. “We can get it for him if you guys stop them. To say that to the guys and to just watch Exum blitz on his own. Just do whatever they could. Because once I said that to them you could see it in their eyes. And everyone on the bench was yelling for it.”
The defense made the stop. And Kittle broke the record with just over two minutes left on a 43-yard touchdown catch. The team captain said seeing his teammates’ excitement made the moment even more special.
(Exum) “was supposed to cover the post,” Kittle said. “He walked down next to (linebacker) Elijah (Lee). Elijah was like ‘What are you doing?’ He was like ‘I’m just going to be a baller.’ … It worked.”
More awards: Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner received the Len Eshmont Award, the team’s most prestigious honor which is voted on by the players and given to the 49er who best exemplifies inspiration and courage.
Buckner, who was voted a team captain, had a career-high 12 sacks. Left tackle Joe Staley likened his work ethic to that of former 49ers running back Frank Gore.
“He has the same kind of hunger and desire to get better that I saw with Frank,” Staley said. “The way that he works on the practice field. He’s one of the hardest workers and a super competitor.”
Other award winners included left guard Laken Tomlinson (Bobb McKittrick Award), cornerback Richard Sherman (Ed Block Courage Award) and quarterback Nick Mullens (Thomas Herrion Memorial Award). Buckner also won the Hazeltine Iron Man Award.
Injury update: Tomlinson sustained a torn medial collateral ligament in Sunday’s game. He will not require surgery and faces a three-month rehabilitation.
The 49ers initially feared Tomlinson had sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which would have sidelined him for the start of the 2019 season.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/49ers/article/Record-breaker-Kittle-also-49ers-MVP-13500553.php.