How Emmanuel Sanders trade helped 49ers, likely hurt Patriots' offense


How Emmanuel Sanders trade helped 49ers, likely hurt Patriots' offense

Two of the NFL’s best teams in 2019, the New England Patriots and 49ers, both faced a similar problem as the trade deadline approached.

The seemingly well-oiled machines had identified an identical issue: A lack of consistent play from the wide receivers.

While both teams attempted to rectify their passing-game issues at the deadline -- the 49ers dealt a pair of draft picks to the Denver Broncos for Emmanuel Sanders while the Patriots used a second-round pick to acquire Mohamed Sanu from Atlanta -- the results weren’t exactly analogous for the two contenders.

Sanders just completed a dominant performance in New Orleans, catching seven passes for 157 yards and a touchdown -- he threw for one, too. Meanwhile, Sanu caught just one pass for 13 yards in Week 14 as New England suffered a home loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Since Oct. 22, the day both players found their new homes, Sanders is averaging 10.44 receiving yards per target. Sanu? The former Falcon is averaging just 4.66 yards per target.

The 49ers reportedly balked at the price Atlanta wanted for Sanu, but the Patriots might have been better off bringing Sanders in, according to The Athletic’s Mike Sando.

"Sanu has been a solid receiver for a long time, but not as much of a downfield threat. Over the past four seasons, Sanders holds a 67-44 edge over Sanu in passes gaining more than 15 yards, despite Sanu playing four additional games. Sanu could have been a natural fit in San Francisco given that Shanahan was previously his offensive coordinator in Atlanta. He might even be flourishing there, given San Francisco’s superior surrounding talent, including George Kittle. The fit has been questionable in New England.”

The 49ers also have an obvious advantage in fielding George Kittle, who continues to cement his status as one of the NFL’s top tight-ends week in and week out.

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But imagine what Josh McDaniels, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady could have whipped up with Emmanuel Sanders stretching the field.

This might go down as a rare mistake in player personnel from the Patriots’ front office, and it also might just be the move that propels the 49ers into playing February football.

Dee Ford has moved on from crucial offsides penalty, even if Chiefs fans haven't


Dee Ford has moved on from crucial offsides penalty, even if Chiefs fans haven't

MIAMI, Fla. – Dee Ford lined up offsides in a crucial moment. It cost the Kansas City Chiefs dearly.

The edge rusher understands that, even without constant reminders from the media during Super Bowl week.

What happened in last year’s AFC Championship game was regrettable. He lined up offsides with a minute left and the Chiefs ahead, negating an interception that would’ve essentially sealed victory.

Ford never got a chance to make up for that moment. He was traded to the 49ers this offseason for a second-round pick and subsequently signed a five-year, $85 million contract with $33 million guaranteed.

Ford doesn't think much about that moment anymore, even if Chiefs fans can't let it go. It apparently bothers Chiefs edge rusher Frank Clark, who has ripped Ford several times for the unforced error even though he wasn’t a Chief when it happened. It’s almost like he’s trying to get in Ford’s head before the 49ers and Chiefs clash Sunday in Super Bowl LIV.

That’s not going to work. Ford has long since moved on.

“In this league and in sports in general, you have to have a short memory,” Ford said this week. “I could’ve let that affect me, but that’s not what champions do. That’s not what great players do. At the end of the day, I know what my responsibility was and I held myself accountable. I was able preserver and get over it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to help Kansas City, but I was able to help my new team perform well and get to a really good situation.”

Ford is in a great situation, with a big-money contract while working with the NFL’s best defensive front. He admits he’s looking forward to playing the team that drafted him No. 23 overall in the Super Bowl.

“Yeah,” Ford said. “You always want to play your old team. I built a lot of great relationships in Kansas City. It should be fun going up against them.”

Rob Gronkowski happy 49ers' George Kittle takes position to 'another level'

Rob Gronkowski happy 49ers' George Kittle takes position to 'another level'

MIAMI, Fla. -- Last season, perhaps the best tight end in NFL history called it a career after winning the Super Bowl. 

Rob Gronkowski walked away from the game at the age of 29 last season, but his throne wasn't left unoccupied as 49ers tight end George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce have taken the mantle from Gronk. 

Like Gronkowski, Kittle and Kelce have helped propel their teams to the biggest stage in sports as the 49ers and Chiefs will meet Sunday at Super Bowl LIV in Miami. Both star tight ends also have big personalities, like Gronk, and the former Patriots star likes seeing two star talents who can be themselves both on and off the field. 

"Possibly," Gronkowski told the media Tuesday when asked if he might have influenced Kittle and Kelce. "It's good to see that, though. To see the personality of Kelce and Kittle, both on and off the field. They are a lot of fun to watch while playing the game and also they are a lot of fun off the field. I met them both, they are fantastic guys. I bet you they are fantastic to work with and I bet you they are fantastic teammates too. They just bring it in all aspects, which is great to see. And If I influenced them in that way, to just be themselves, then that's great to hear and that gives me that motivation to keep on going and being that way. Hopefully, they stay true to themselves because they are great players and great dudes. It's going to be fun to watch."

Gronkowski's rise with the Patriots put the tight end position back on the map after Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates exited their primes. The way the Patriots used an athletic, do-it-all tight end, who also loved to be a bulldozer in the run game, inspired other teams to put more of an emphasis on that position.

With Kittle and Kelce, along with Raiders star Darren Waller and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, Gronk's position now has become one of the most vital in the NFL, something he's excited to see. 

"Talking about the tight end position, it's definitely evolved over the last 10 years or so," Gronkowski said. "If you really think about it man, there were some great tight ends. But now, there are offenses focused around tight ends. I would say it started with Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, those guys started it off. Then, guys like myself took the reins. Now you have Kelce and Kittle taking it to another level. The top two tight ends -- I won a Super Bowl last year and now the top two tight ends are in the Super Bowl. The tight end position just keeps on transcending up, it just keeps on getting the recognition it deserves. I feel like back in the day it didn't really get the recognition, but now it is. It's great to see players like Kelce and Kittle out there doing what they need to do."

While both Kittle and Kelce are all-world players, the 49ers star is the one who most reminds Gronkowski of himself due to his love of eviscerating people in the running game.

[RELATED: How Alex Smith helped develop Patrick Mahomes during rookie season]

A year after his record-breaking season, Kittle battled through ankle, knee and shoulder injuries to be one of the key cogs for a 49ers team that went 13-3 and now is one win away from the Super Bowl. He hasn't been asked to do much in the passing game during the playoffs, but has been quite content to stick his hand in the dirt and pave the way for Raheem Mostert and the 49ers' dominant running game. 

Frank Clark might not care about his matchup with Kittle on Sunday, but he's certainly going to have his hands full trying to beat a guy who relishes in demoralizing opponents with his blocking. 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.