A day after Kliff Kingsbury praised the Niners tight end’s competitiveness and guessed the Pro Bowler would return from a Week 9 knee injury to play the Cardinals again this weekend, Kyle Shanahan told reporters on a Wednesday conference call Kittle will actually not be available. He quickly followed up those remarks with a team statement, per The Athletic’s Matt Barrows, clarifying that Kittle has not yet been ruled out and that Shanahan meant San Fran has to prepare as if he won’t be on the field.
The star pass catcher, who caught six passes for 79 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers’ Halloween victory over Arizona, had previously been considered a game-time decision and did not practice at all on Wednesday.
A breakout star of 2018, Kittle struggled to replicate his Pro Bowl numbers early this season, opening the year with three straight weeks of fewer than 60 receiving yards. But he’d come alive in the weeks before his injury, logging 103 yards against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 6, then posting back-to-back weeks with six catches to finish October.
Shanahan on Tuesday indicated that the 49ers wouldn’t be quick to rule Kittle out for Week 11, calling him “a little bit of a different bird” and alluding to a rib-cartilage issue the tight end played through during his Pro Bowl campaign.
“We’re never going to decide on Kittle too early in the week,” Shanahan said, as NBC Sports reported. “He’s always got a chance with some of the stuff he’s been able to go through here in these last couple years.”
Kittle has not played since that Week 9 win over Arizona. In the event he sits out Week 11, the Cardinals figure to rely on backup Ross Dwelley, who had three catches against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night.