Emmanuel Sanders makes highlight-reel plays in first game back from Achilles injury, besting average recovery timetable

Emmanuel Sanders received a warm ovation from Broncos' Country when he rushed out of the tunnel prior to Denver's preseason game Monday night against the 49ers. Sanders, who played for the first time since suffering a torn Achilles tendon late in the 2018 season, tipped his cap to the remaining fans who cheered him as he left the field following Monday's game. 

Both ovations Sanders received were well deserved. Merely playing eight months after sustaining an injury of that magnitude is a notable feat. Played as well as Sanders did Monday night -- he had a 19-yard run on an end-around while also catching a 45-yard pass that was called back due to a holding penalty -- was certainly a reason for Sanders, and Broncos fans, to celebrate. 

"I wanted to score [on the run]. I feel like I could have scored," Sanders said per ESPN's Jeff Legwold. "That's going to come, that's going to come. ... I wish I could go back and keep running down that sideline and scored." 

What did Monday's game mean to Sanders when compared to his other career milestones? 

"It's up there, it's up there," said Sanders, a 10-year veteran, two-time Pro Bowler and member of Denver's Super Bowl 50 championship team. "To be able to come back and feel how I feel and feel better, still be able to hang out with these 24-year-old kids and still be able to run with them, it's amazing. I don't take anything for granted."

Sanders big night was a very welcomed sight for new Broncos quarterback, Joe Flacco. Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP who spent his first 11 seasons in Baltimore, completed seven of his 11 throws on Monday night in his Broncos preseason debut. 

"It was great to see him out there the last few days getting after it, and now to get him some live reps in the game is a positive," Flacco told reporters after the game. "... Getting him going was definitely huge for our offense." 

While a torn Achilles isn't necessarily a career-ending injury, it has ended the career of several prominent players. A recent study revealed that, from 2011-15, 46 NFL players had reportedly suffered a torn Achilles injury. Of those 46, 24 players either never played again or retired shortly after sustaining the injury. The list of those players includes running backs Beanie Wells and Vic Ballard, tight end Fred Davis, and linebacker NaVorro Bowman. According to friend of the Pick Six podcast Warren Sharp, a torn Achilles injury has been a career-ender for 28% of NFL players who have suffered it. 

Some players do return from the injury, but the recovery timetable is a lengthy one. The average return time for all NFL players who have suffered the injury has been 11 1/2 months. Sanders made his return to live-game action last night after suffering the injury 8 1/2 months ago. He was running at full speed during Broncos' training camp practices just 7 1/2 months removed from the injury.

Sanders apparently won't be joining that list. Instead, the 31-year-old wideout will look to do his part in helping Denver return to the playoffs this season for the first time since winning it all four years earlier. 

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