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In career game, Ross Dwelley felt highs and lows of replacing George Kittle

Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The last time Ross Dwelley scored a touchdown, it was in an unsuccessful bid at a national championship. Dwelley played his college ball at the University of San Diego, an FCS school in Division 1-A, and after hauling in his first two career touchdowns in the NFL, he lamented the last time he caught one in a game: a playoff game against the North Dakota State Bison.

“We played them two years in a row in the playoffs and they ended up winning the national championship both years,” Dwelley said. “So, it’s tough, tough draw for us.”

Sunday was a far more pleasant experience for Dwelley. He hauled in two touchdowns along with a pair of other receptions, one of which went for a first down that set up the game-winning touchdown pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to Jeff Wilson Jr.

Dwelley was never going to be the All-Pro-level tight end that George Kittle is, but he’s been a reliable option when Garoppolo needs him most. Two weeks ago, also against the Arizona Cardinals, Dwelley made a catch that sealed the game for the 49ers, just barely converting a first down to keep the clock moving. For the four games that fullback Kyle Juszcyzk was out, Dwelley filled in at fullback.

As head coach Kyle Shanahan said after Sunday’s 36-26 win, he’s the team’s “Swiss army knife.”

“He does a little bit of everything, lines up split out at receiver sometimes, so you’ve got to tip your hat to him,” Shanahan said. “He’s had a lot on his plate the last however many weeks just with guys being down. He doesn’t even hesitate. He just attacks it, gets the formation and goes out there and performs. Whenever his number is called, he does a great job… Dwelley has been one of the better football players on this football team this year.”

On his first career touchdown, Dwelley went untouched to secure it in the corner. He’s got the game ball dated and sitting in his locker.

On the would-be second touchdown, he knew the ball was coming his way based on film study. Dwelley set a fake block and said he knew Cardinals linebacker Haason Reddick would bite on it and leave him open.

“We studied the film and that backer flies over if I fake the block, so right when I saw him trigger, I knew to release and Jimmy gave me the ball and I just tried to make someone miss and get in the end zone,” Dwelley said.

But Dwelley also saw the downside of replacing Kittle on that play. Kittle only talked to reporters after the game on the condition that all questions must be Dwelley-related. Kittle has had four touchdowns called back this season, and Dwelley was robbed of one of his own in the dying seconds of the first half.

“He actually had the exact same play called back against Carolina,” Dwelley said. “So I was like, I know how George feels now. It sucks.”

Dwelley was redeemed later with his second touchdown of the game and praised by Kittle, who, again, refused to discuss anything but Dwelley.

“He’s ready to go, there’s not a lot of hey, get your toes wet,” Kittle said. “He’s just out there going full speed and that’s what you want out of a guy.”


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