There just hours before the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys face off in the Wild Card round and the tension is rising.
Two of the NFL’s most storied franchises are squaring up at AT&T Stadium in their first playoff game against each other since the 1995 NFC Championship game and it’s shaping up to be a barnburner.
In the buildup to Sunday, players and coaches from both sides have been talking about the matchup and what they expect. On Friday, Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse took the opportunity to call out one of his top assignments, San Francisco star tight end George Kittle.
“I’m ready for the task,” Kearse said per the Dallas News’ Calvin Watkins. “But he has to go against me, too. I kind of get ticked off when I’m being asked ‘Kittle this, Kittle that.’ He has to play me, too. So we’ll see how that shakes out.”
Bold words from Kearse, but the attitude you have to have for NFL playoff football.
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Kearse vs. Kittle
Kearse should be feeling confident after having the best NFL season of his career so far. After spending the past five seasons as a depth option with the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, Kearse has taken the starting strong safety position in Dallas and not looked back.
According to Pro Football Reference, Kearse first got the starting nod in Week 2. Since, he’s tallied 10 passes defended, two interceptions and allowed a 77.5 quarterback rating when targeted. PFR says Kearse has been directly scored on twice this season.
Kearse will have a tall order when Kittle hits the field on Sunday, but recent opponents of the 49ers have set the template for defending the tight end. After 425 receiving yards and three touchdowns in Weeks 13 through 15, Kittle has been held to 60 total receiving yards in the last three weeks of the regular season.
Having two different quarterbacks starting between Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance may have contributed to that, but the 49ers will be looking to get Kittle some momentum early on Sunday.
Kittle Wants to See the Rams Again
After a 27-24 victory in a must-win game against the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers are flying high. Considering the team was on the brink of season’s end and down 17-0 in the first half, the nature of the victory has reenergized the team and fanbase.
That includes Kittle, who didn’t hesitate to say this week that he wants the Rams again, if possible. Per Sam Hustis, Kittle stated during media availability this week that Los Angeles was doing a lot of talking and he’d want to face them again in the playoffs.
“We go down 17-0,” Kittle started. “And I had five guys chirping me in the ear, ‘Hey we’re putting you in a bodybag, Kittle.’ I was like, ‘Lotta time up on that clock boys.’ Hopefully I can see them again.”