BRADENTON, Fla. — Emmanuel Sanders could be playing in his third Super Bowl with his third team come Feb. 2, about 225 miles southwest of here at Hard Rock Stadium.
What will it take for him and the 49ers to get there?
His experience in playoff pushes tells him the 49ers (10-2) must realize the enormity of Sunday’s visit to the New Orleans Saints (10-2).
“There’s a huge sense of urgency. The time is now,” Sanders said. “I was telling the guys it’s time to cut out all the extracurricular activities and just hone in on the season for the next, hopefully, 2 1 1/2 months, and see if we can do something special.”
Sanders, an instant starter since his Oct. 22 trade, lost in the Super Bowl as a 2010 rookie backup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, then won the Lombardi Trophy six years later as Peyton Manning’s second-favorite target on the Denver Broncos.
Now the veteran spokesman of a young and largely unsuspecting receiving corps, Sanders is trying to lead them — particularly Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne — through their new frontier of pressure-packed, playoff-hinging atmospheres.
“I try to be the voice of letting them understand why they feel the way they feel,” Sanders said. “You get in those games and, man, it doesn’t seem like Week 4. Every single play matters. You’ve got to think that.”
That’s just what a 10th-year veteran should say with two previous Super Bowl trips.
So, how has he done in those every-play-matters games? Of his 18 career 100-yard receiving games, only two have come in December or later, and none in his eight playoff games.
That’s not to say he wasn’t effective. He had six catches for 83 yards in the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 win at Levi’s Stadium. In six games with the 49ers, he has 21 catches, 250 yards and two touchdowns.
With his Nov. 11 rib injury healing, he could be more effective than past stretch runs. He has seven touchdowns in 31 games played after December. He’s yet to record a playoff touchdown among his 36 receptions. He hasn’t scored for the 49ers since a touchdown in each of his first two games.
All of which is to say that while Sanders is inspiring his teammates to step up their game, he also will be needed to catch what Jimmy Garoppolo gives him and race toward first-down markers, toward goal lines, toward Hard Rock Stadium.
Garoppolo said of Sanders’ leadership: “You feel it. You see it. It’s everything. Even if he’s not saying anything, guys are watching him before practice warming up and how locked in he is.
“The guy just does a great job,” Garoppolo added. “Some of that is natural. He’s being himself it comes across as being a leader. It’s awesome having a guy like that. It makes everyone better and really pick their game up.”
Yep. Everyone. Is. On. Notice. Every. Single. Play. Matters.
#49ers starting final Florida practice before flying to New Orleans
DNP: SS Tartt (ribs), DT Taylor (elbow)
Among participants: DE Ford, RB Breida, WR Pettis, LT Staley, DT Armstead
Looks like Nick Mullens did good job imitating Drew Brees to win scout team star/camo jersey pic.twitter.com/kOgGIRQvE0
— 𝙲𝚊𝚖 𝙸𝚗𝚖𝚊𝚗 (@CamInman) December 6, 2019
INJURY UPDATES: Neither strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) and defensive tackle Jullian Taylor (elbow) will play after both missed practice all week. Marcell Harris will replace Tartt in the starting lineup.
Questionable are wide receivers Marquise Goodwin (knee, foot) and Dante Pettis (knee), plus left tackle Joe Staley (finger).
Running back Matt Breida (ankle) and defensive end Dee Ford (hamstring) are expected to return and are not on the injury report, nor is cornerback Richard Sherman despite Sunday’s knee sprain. Defensive tackle Arik Armstead participated Friday after getting Thursday off to rest.
The 49ers likely will inactivate Tartt, Taylor, quarterback C.J. Beathard, tight end Levine Toilolo, left tackle Justin Skule, running back Jeff Wilson Jr. and either Pettis or Goodwin. Pettis practiced for a second straight day Friday after injuring his knee last week.
SAINTS DOWN LINEBACKERS
Starting linebackers Kiko Alonso and A.J. Klein are out, as are guard Andrus Peat and fullback Zach Line.
Questionable are left tackle Terron Armstead, guard Will Clapp and cornerback Patrick Robinson.
RYAN FALLOUT: Coach Shanahan said this week’s controversy involving radio analyst Tim Ryan has not affected the 49ers’ preparations “at all.” Ryan was suspended by the 49ers for that game after referring to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s “dark skin” and how it disguises the football, comments he made Monday on KNBR 680-AM.
Shanahan spoke for the first time Friday morning about Ryan’s situation, telling KNBR it was not something he felt compelled to address with his players, several of whom spoke out Thursday in defense of Ryan, who’s since apologized.
“It didn’t affect our team at all,” Shanahan said. “Tim’s around a lot and the guys know Tim. … We know he made a mistake. He knows he made a mistake. I don’t think it affected our team.”
Dennis Brown, a former 49ers defensive lineman in the 1990s, will replace Ryan as Sunday’s analyst alongside play-by-play voice Greg Papa.
“I don’t really know too much about it or understand the context of it,” Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh told ESPN.com about Ryan’s comments. “It’s not relevant to what we’re trying to accomplish right now.” The 49ers, in their statement announcing Ryan’s suspension, said they reached out to apologize to the Ravens.
MULLENS HONORED: Backup quarterback Nick Mullens aced his assignment on the scout team, presumably an impersonation of Drew Brees at practice. Mullens wore the scout-team, player-of-the-week camouflage jersey for Friday’s session. Mullens’ only action this regular season came in a mop-up role with three kneel-downs in the Oct. 27 rout of Carolina. He went 3-5 in finishing last season as the 49ers starting quarterback.
THANKING IMG: After the 49ers’ practices this week at IMG Academy — which is oriented toward elite, high school athletes — one way of thanking them was to make a player available for an on-camera interview with a student, who was selected based on their academic and athletic achievements. Running back Matt Breida was interviewed Wednesday by freshman running back Xavier Terrell, IMG’s offensive player of the year. Linebacker Fred Warner and right tackle Mike McGlinchey were the 49ers interviewed on the ensuing days.
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