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 10thyear 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 firstdown 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.” 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 is guard Andrus Peat and fullback Zach Line.
Questionable is left tackle Terron Armstead, guard Will Clapp and cornerback Patrick Robinson. RYAN FALLOUT >> Coach Kyle 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-theweek camouflage jersey for Friday’s session. Mullens’ only action this regular season came in a mopup role with three kneeldowns in the Oct. 27 rout of Carolina. He went 3-5 in finishing last season as the 49ers starting quarterback.
San Francisco 49ers’ Emmanuel Sanders makes a catch against the Seahawks’ Neiko Thorpe in the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Nov. 11.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders reacts after catching a pass against the Seahawks during the first half in Santa Clara on Nov. 11.