Thursday's NFL: Kelce, Kittle chase Gronkowski's record
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.”
Barkley nears another mark
While the NFL rushing title might be a little out of reach heading into the final week of the regular season, halfback Saquon Barkley is probably going to end his rookie season with the New York Giants with his share of records.
The No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft has one league record within reach, can join a very select group of players with his yards from scrimmage total, and he can add to his windfall of Giants records.
Barkley’s statistics are impressive. He has rushed for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns, caught a team-high 87 passes for 688 yards and four touchdowns, and accumulated 1,886 yards from scrimmage.
The 21-year-old running back enters the week third in the league in rushing. He is 236 yards behind Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys and 183 behind Todd Gurley of the Rams.
Barkley needs two receptions to break Reggie Bush’s NFL mark (88) for rookie running backs, set in 2006. He needs 114 yards from scrimmage to join Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (2,212 yards in 1983) and Edgerrin James (2,139 in 1999) as only rookies with at least 2,000 scrimmage yards in NFL history.
He has already broken the team’s rookie record for yards rushing, needs 2 yards to become the fourth Giant with 1,200 yards rushing, and one rushing TD to set the team record, which he now shares with Bill Paschal (1943).
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (neck) was limited in his return to practice and hopes to recover from his latest injury in time to start against the Colts.
... Packers receiver Randall Cobb has been cleared from the concussion protocol and expects to play in Green Bay's season finale.
... Washington placed tight end Jordan Reed and quarterback Colt McCoy on injured reserve.
... Saints veteran tight end Ben Watson said he’s retiring after this season. His announcement came through an NFL Films video about his family.