Kittle celebrated Tonyan’s success all throughout the Packers’ 30-16 prime-time victory over the Atlanta Falcons on social media as his fellow tight end hauled in three touchdown catches from Aaron Rodgers and finished with six receptions for 98 yards. The two friends share an NFL agent and have worked out together in each of the past three offseasons in Nashville, Tenn.
Tonyan now has five touchdown catches on the year — as many as former starter Jimmy Graham tallied in two seasons with the Packers — and is tied with Tampa Bay Buccanneers wide receiver Mike Evans for the most scoring receptions in the league. He is also the only tight end to have recorded a receiving touchdown in three straight games this season.
For the Packers, Tonyan’s breakout performance couldn’t have come at a better time with top wideouts Davante Adams and Allen Lazard as well as starting tight end Marcedes Lewis all sidelined with injuries. The receiving load was hardly shouldered by him alone (Jamaal Williams had eight receptions for 95 yards), but the fourth-year tight end was Rodgers’ favorite target in the end zone — for good reason.
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Tonyan Received Text From Kittle in Postgame
Tonyan didn’t share specifics, but he did tell reporters there was a text from Kittle waiting for him in the postgame. Not surprising for a pair who lived together during their offseason workouts and continue to hype up one another at every turn.
“Just being around someone who’s done it and lives it, it’s just another person to compete with every day,” Tonyan said of Kittle back in August. “Whether we’re playing video games competing or in the backyard getting catches on the JUGS, it’s just competition nonstop. When you have a good relationship with one of your buddies and you’re also competing 24/7 when you’re with them, it brings out the best in both of us just constantly competing and constantly getting better at just everyday life.”
Tonyan still has a long way to go before catching up to Kittle, who turned in a 183-yard performance for the 49ers in his return from injury on Sunday Night Football. Kittle has racked up more than 80 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in each of his last two seasons for San Francisco and just inked a five-year, $75 million contract that made him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL.
Not a bad person for Tonyan to be chasing, though, is it?
Starting TE Job Now Tonyan’s to Lose?
The tight end situation in Green Bay would seem to be clearer now than it has been in the seven months since Graham’s release.
The Packers entered the season with the veteran Lewis at the helm but were also playing a waiting game with some of their young tight ends, including a pair of third-round draft picks in Jace Sternberger and Josiah Deguara. While Sternberger seemed an early favorite after a solid finish to his rookie postseason, it has been the undrafted Tonyan that has shined consistently through four games.
Tonyan has caught 13 of 14 targets this season for a combined 173 yards and five touchdowns and seemingly put up a performance too good to demote on Monday night. It always made sense that Lewis would eventually take a backseat with the 36-year-old veteran uncertain to re-sign beyond this season, and neither Sternberger nor Deguara — who has been injured for most of his rookie year — has been able to match what Tonyan has brought to the offense.
“It is nice to get more opportunities and I’m definitely an improved player from last year,” Tonyan told reporters in Monday’s postgame. “We’ve got a good tight end room, and I can’t thank (tight ends coach Justin Outten) enough and he’s just been so supportive and encouraging. We talked before the season, ‘We don’t want anything to slip. If we want to be the best tight end group in the NFL, we’re not going to let stuff slip.’ So credit to J.O. for getting us right.”