SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers have officially been eliminated from postseason contention, but that isn't going to stop tight end George Kittle from returning for Saturday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.
The 49ers plan to activate Kittle from injured reserve in the next 24 hours, clearing the path for him to play for the first time since sustaining a fractured cuboid bone in his right foot in a Nov. 1 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
"He looked great this week," coach Kyle Shanahan said. "Just talked to him, he said he felt good here after practice so I'm expecting him to go."
That conversation, apparently, wasn't a long one, as Kittle made it clear he wanted to return despite the 5-9 Niners having little to play for in the final two weeks.
"He asked me if I wanted to play and I said 'Hell yes,'" Kittle said. "And he said, 'Sounds good.' That was our conversation."
Kittle missed the past six games because of that foot injury as the Niners fell out of postseason contention, going 1-5 without him. He also missed two games with a knee injury sustained in Week 1.
In the six games he has played this year, Kittle has 37 receptions for 474 yards and two touchdowns. But Kittle's injury issues, combined with the team's disappointing performance on the heels of a Super Bowl appearance, offered ample motivation for him to return this season.
"That's why I'm coming back, because I have a very sour taste in my mouth," Kittle said. "I hate losing football games and I hate it when I don't perform at a high level, so ending on an injury is not very fun and I know that anybody can say that who has missed games. So, the fact I get two opportunities, especially against division opponents, I can let them know that I'm still here and I will be for multiple years to come. I'm really excited about that to get the chance to play these next two weeks."
From his perspective, Shanahan has made it clear that he believes it's important for healthy players to play so as to set the standard of what he wants the franchise's culture to be.
"He's probably one of the healthiest guys we have right now," Shanahan said. "He had two good weeks of practice, feels great after it. We wouldn't put him out there at all if there was any risk of reinjuring this or he wasn't healed. But we've got a lot of guys going out there and everyone has got stuff on the line every time they step out. Whether you have two games left and you're not in the playoffs or whether it's the first game of the year, that's what these guys do.
"If they're healthy enough to do it, that's what you do on our team."
Although Kittle will return against Arizona, he will not have his usual workload, according to Shanahan.
"He's in great shape and he's conditioned very well but he hasn't been playing a lot of football here in a while so we've got to be smart with that," Shanahan said. "We don't expect him to go in there and play 95% of the snaps like he usually does. We'll be smart with him. We'll see how he goes. I know he's excited to go out there and play some. I know our team is real excited to have him out there but it won't be his usual deal."