Emmanuel Sanders was one of the underrated free agent signings this offseason, landing a two-year deal to become the No. 2 wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints -- a hole the offense desperately needed to fill. Even though Sanders finished with just three catches for 15 yards Sunday, his five-yard touchdown catch essentially sealed the win for New Orleans against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A three-time 1,000-yard receiver and Super Bowl champion with the Denver Broncos, Sanders is seeking his second Super Bowl title with New Orleans, trying to help the Saints get over the hump and win another championship for Drew Brees. Sanders remains one of the top route runners in the game.
In an exclusive interview with CBS Sports, Sanders opened up about his excellent relationship with Brees, his first touchdown catch with New Orleans, and the excitement of playing in Las Vegas and a new stadium for the first time.
It took you some time to get into a rhythm with Drew Brees on Sunday. You weren't featured much until late in the game. Was that just part of the game plan?
Sanders: "Earlier in the game we had some things, but at the same time we had to make some adjustments based on how the team was playing. They came out playing zone and it was a little different than what we've seen. That comes with not having the preseason and not watching film from last year. For me, it's not about targets or whatever, I'm just happy that we won the game and I was able to make a couple plays. Two times in the first half I was able to draw two PIs (pass interference penalties), but I was just waiting for the right opportunity. When the opportunities come, I want to make the most of it. If they don't, as long as we win -- I'm happy."
You were able to avoid Carlton Davis on your touchdown catch. Did you feel him coming when you caught the ball?
Sanders: "Oh, my adrenaline was going! When I ran into the flat, I knew Drew was going to throw me the ball and I knew I had to make him miss and he was running hard over the top. I just stopped. I didn't really feel anything at first because I was just focused on reaching the end zone. I knew it was a face mask, but I was just happy to get into the end zone, especially since it was my first game with the Saints."
How has your connection with Drew Brees been so far? I know it's only been one game.
Sanders: "Oh, it's been good! I'm playing with a guy who is arguably the best quarterback of all time, he's No. 1 in every single stat. And I've played with Peyton Manning and I see why these quarterbacks are the greatest to ever do it. They are amazingly consistent, they have their routine down and how they approach the game. They work extremely hard and they have that routine down.
"Drew comes to work with a 'Let's Go' mindset. He gets the guys going every single day. He's consistent with his personality, consistent with his energy. I really enjoy just playing with him. We just talked about Sunday and he said 'wait until we are five or six games in; it's only one, man.' I'm really looking forward to those targets when they come and this offense is firing on all cylinders and I might go for 100 yards. It's going to be fun, but you got to get to that point. I don't doubt that at all."
You've had plenty of success against the Raiders over the years. Is there any reason -- maybe the defensive scheme -- for why you've had great numbers against them?
Sanders: "Thanks for that! You play against an opponent so much the numbers got to match at some point! I played against the Raiders six years straight pretty much. I played against them more than any team I've ever played (laughing). It's been about 15 times. I definitely look forward to playing them, but it's going to be weird not pulling up to the stadium in Oakland and going to Las Vegas. We have to go out there and handle business regardless."
Have you ever played a game where you opened a stadium, or where you were an opponent in the stadium opening?
Sanders: "I can't say that I have. It's going to be weird from their perspective opening up a new stadium and not having the fans see how crazy it is. We were used to it because of the first game (at home vs. Tampa Bay).
"I'm looking forward to it. I mean, it's a brand new arena in Las Vegas. This is everything I think many predicted. Vegas finally has a team and it's good for the NFL. On the other side, it could be bad as well because of the gambling and all that Vegas has to offer. We definitely have to be careful out there (as players)."
Sanders joined Chris Godwin as the first players to participate in the league's new "jersey swap" protocol this season. Since the league isn't allowing on-field jersey swaps this season due to COVID-19, the NFL partnered up with Tide, which will cover the cost of one replacement jersey per player -- all washed first and exchanged by mail.