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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers RB Jerick McKinnon makes emotional return after two injury-filled years

Sep 13, 2020 at 8:06 PM--

It's been a long time coming for running back Jerick McKinnon, but after more than two years of waiting, he finally has his first game in the books as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

McKinnon joined the 49ers in 2018 on a lucrative four-year deal worth $30 million after spending the first four seasons of his NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings. At the time, McKinnon was expected to take over as the lead back in San Francisco for the foreseeable future. But he wound up missing the entire 2018 season after suffering a torn ACL during a practice session days before the season opener, then experienced a setback the following year that caused him to miss the 2019 season as well.

In the meantime, McKinnon watched from the sidelines as his friend and now former teammate Matt Brieda emerged as a go-to option in 2018, while Brieda, Raheem Mostert, and Tevin Coleman came together to form a potent running attack during the 49ers' NFC Championship run in 2019. The success the 49ers found without McKinnon on the field in 2018 and 2019 led to some question over what role he'd have with the team in the future, but after agreeing to a contract restructure in March that locked him in at a reduced rate for the 2020 season, McKinnon found himself firmly in the picture after the 49ers traded Breida to the Miami Dolphins in April.

With a healthy offseason behind him, McKinnon was able to suit up Sunday and play in his first NFL game in over 900 days. He responded with three carries for 24 yards and three catches for 20 yards, one of which was his first touchdown since 2017. Needless to say, it was a great moment for McKinnon after everything he's been through.

"It was really just a blessing to wake up this morning knowing I was going to get to play in a game finally," McKinnon said after the 49ers' 24-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. "A lot of emotions -- I woke up, shed a couple tears and took it all in. But God is good and I'm back."

Mostert drew the starting nod for the 49ers Sunday and led the way with 15 carries for 56 yards while also chipping in four catches for 95 yards and one touchdown. Coleman notched four carries for 18 yards while catching one pass for six yards. There may be games where McKinnnon gets more of a workload than he saw in his 49ers debut, but Sunday was a good first step. And for now, he just sounds happy to have his injury behind him and to be back on the field where he belongs.

"It's great to be back out there with my team, playing with those guys and going to war with those guys because they've definitely been right there beside me these last two frustrating years," McKinnon said.

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