Each week, NBC Sports Bay Area 49ers insider Matt Maiocco will preview the upcoming matchup and key storylines heading into Sunday's game. For more takeaways and features from Maiocco, visit NBCSports.com.
Everybody loves a comeback story. And the 49ers this season have two of the finest.
Little has gone as planned for the 49ers through nine games of the season. And they face a difficult challenge on Sunday to get things heading in the right direction against the surging New Orleans Saints.
But running back Jerick McKinnon and cornerback Jason Verrett serve as a reminder that anything is possible.
Both were widely written off after they experienced the harsh football realities of multiple seasons being lost due to injuries.
Look at them now.
McKinnon is showing why 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan hand-picked him for his offense on the first day of free agency in 2018. And Verrett is proving the 49ers right for bringing him back for another season when logic seemed to be telling them it was best to just move on.
If the 2020 season continues on this trajectory, it will be remembered for the alarming number of injuries that stood as a roadblock for the 49ers to remain atop the NFC and get back to the Super Bowl.
So let's give some credit to a couple of players who have provided inspiration for demonstrating perseverance, overcoming the odds and performing at high levels.
Shanahan did not envision McKinnon becoming the team's every-down running back. But there have been no other options for a couple of games.
"I don't want him to have to carry the load too much because that wears down everybody, especially a guy who's had two years off football coming back with what he's done," Shanahan said of McKinnon.
The 49ers dialed back McKinnon's involvement in the Week 7 game against the New England Patriots, as he was on the field for just 12 snaps. The lighter workload allowed him to freshen up and respond with extended playing time the past two games.
"I think it'll help him this week going into it and hoping to get some more guys back so we can take that stuff off of him and get him back to using him specifically how we planned on," Shanahan said.
McKinnon was sidelined for the entire 2018 season after sustaining a torn ACL on the Sunday before the 49ers season-opener. He missed all of last year, too, when the graft from his surgery did not fill in properly.
McKinnon appears to be getting stronger and stronger, better and better. He has gained 261 yards rushing and five touchdowns with a 4.4-yard average. And he has also shown his unique route-running ability out of the backfield with 24 catches for 173 yards.
And if you think McKinnon's story is a good one, Verrett has him topped.
Verrett entered the NFL as a first-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2014. He appeared in only six games as a rookie due to injuries.
When he played 14 games in 2015, he registered three interceptions and was consistently good enough to be named to the AFC Pro Bowl team.
Then, his career took a nosedive.
The injuries piled up: groin, hamstring, torn ACL, shoulder, Achilles, knee…
Verrett appeared in one game for the 49ers last season, and it was a disaster. He went right back on injured reserve, as the club determined his knee was simply not recovered enough for him to function at an NFL level.
Verrett admitted prior to signing with the 49ers in 2019 he thought seriously about retiring. And after another season wiped out by injuries, who could have blamed him if he decided to call it quits?
But the 49ers saw something in Verrett. And he knew something about himself. Both sides took a leap of faith to team up on another one-year contract.
When Verrett steps on the field Sunday in New Orleans, he will make his eighth consecutive start. Pro Football Focus this week announced their Midseason All-Pro Team. And guess what? Verrett earned a spot among the NFL's elite on the first team.
In four of his games this season, the opposition has caught 10 of fewer yards against him. Verrett's interception of Jared Goff in the end zone in Week 6 was the pivotal play in the 49ers' victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
While there has not been a lot for 49ers fans – or anybody, for that matter -- to get excited about in 2020, the resiliency of McKinnon and Verrett are two notable highlights.
And if a bigger comeback story is told about the 49ers this season, McKinnon and Verrett are already cast in starring roles.