SANTA CLARA -- After 966 days, Jerick McKinnon finally has the monkey off of his back.
The 49ers might have lost 24-20 to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. But one small victory was McKinnon successfully playing in an NFL game after being sidelined more than two years.
McKinnon showed his dual-threat capabilities, carrying the ball three times for 24 yards and catching three passes for 20 yards and a touchdown. His versatility is why coach Kyle Shanahan made the running back one of the biggest free-agent signings of 2018.
During McKinnon’s first training camp with the 49ers, he showed his speed and route running finesse until suffering a non-contact ACL injury. He laid motionless on the field seeming to know what his fate would be.
What McKinnon didn’t know was that complications would keep him out a second season rehabbing his knee.
“It was really just a blessing to wake up this morning knowing that I was going to play in a game finally,” McKinnon said. “A lot of emotions. I woke up and shed a couple tears and just took it all in.”
McKinnon has had the support of his teammates throughout his journey back to the field. During his rehabilitation, he was regularly seen during pregame warmups alongside his running backs and in their pregame huddle.
In the week leading up to the 49ers' first game, fullback Kyle Juszczyk mentioned that McKinnon’s return would be a smooth transition because of how hard McKinnon worked while away from the field. His knowledge of the playbook and tenacity showed in the season opener.
While McKinnon cited a lack of execution for the team’s inability to win on Sunday, he remained thankful for the opportunity to get back to doing what he loves.
“God is good,” McKinnon said. “I’m back and it was great to be back out there with my team and playing with those guys, going to war with those guys. They’ve definitely been right there beside me these last two frustrating years.”