Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers WR Richie James overcomes adversity, injury to deliver career performance vs. Packers

Nov 5, 2020 at 10:20 PM--

Richie James probably never would have guessed earlier in the week he'd be in a position to be the go-to player on offense for the 49ers in their 34-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers Thursday night, but a rapidly changing set of circumstances demanded exactly that.

And as fate would have it, James delivered beyond expectation, putting together a performance that saw him total career highs in catches (nine) and yards (184) to go with his third career receiving touchdown.

James had primarily been a return specialist and a reserve player at receiver throughout his three-year NFL career and came into the night with zero catches on the 2020 season and 15 career catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns. He entered the week unlikely to add much (if anything) to that total, but things changed quickly once Wednesday arrived.

On Wednesday morning, the 49ers learned that wide receiver Kendrick Bourne tested positive the previous day for COVID-19, which put him on the Reserve/COVID-19 list for the Thursday night matchup against the Packers. Also placed on the list due to being close contacts to Bourne were left tackle Trent Williams, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, and wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who was already out due to a hamstring injury.

Those developments left the 49ers scrambling a bit to readjust their wide receiver position for Thursday night. River Cracraft and Kevin White were added to the roster from the practice squad, joining James and Trent Taylor as the four receivers available against the Packers.

"We just had to do a little shuffling," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters following the loss. "There's not enough time to change everything. It's the night before the game, and guys weren't practicing anyway because of the short week. We just got the receivers, reshuffled them and walked through a lot last night. I think Wes (wide receivers coach Wes Welker) grabbed a couple of them and walked through today before the game."

The original plan coming into the game at receiver was to heavily feature Aiyuk, but that role fell to James once Aiyuk was declared out. James wound up being one of the few bright spots in a dismal loss for the 49ers and showed he was capable of delivering in a feature role at receiver if need be.

"He knew a lot of pressure was on him because he saw what the game plan was and he knew he was going to have those (opportunities)," Shanahan said. "But I was just happy he was able to get out there and make it through the game and do a really good job when we came to him. We've got a lot of confidence in Richie."

And not only did James deliver his career performance on short notice, he did it through an ankle injury that originally put his playing status in question.

"I think the most impressive thing with Richie, we were told on Monday he had a 50 percent chance of playing because he was coming off an ankle injury," Shanahan said. "He wasn't able to go last week, so we weren't sure if we were able to have him. Then we found out on Tuesday he was going to be able to dress for the game. We didn't plan on using him that much because he was coming off the injury. But I was just thankful to have him.

"He got a lot of opportunities tonight, but I told him before the game that in regards to what happens, I know he's going in a little bit beat up. I know he didn't get to practice this stuff."

James told reporters Thursday night his ankle was at 95 percent and that it was a no-brainer for him to give it a go. It wasn't an easy task for him given everything he was dealing with, but fortunately, he came ready to play.

"It was kind of hard, but I was prepared for it," James said. "I'm always looking at the situation like if anyone goes down, be ready as much as possible."

James may well once again find himself at the back of the line at receiver against New Orleans, given the fact the 49ers are hopeful Samuel, Bourne, and Aiyuk will be available by November 15. But if James doesn't get an opportunity like the one he had against the Packers anytime soon, at least he knows he made the most of it when he had the chance.

"I knew the opportunities would come, like it did today," James said. "You've got to take advantage of those opportunities like I did today. Hopefully, they come more and I get more opportunities."

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