Emmanuel Sanders says Saints and Brees are unified, ready to pick up slack for Michael Thomas

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Sep 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Pool photo via Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

For such a time as this.

When Emmanuel Sanders decided to sign with the New Orleans Saints on March 20, the expectation, the hope was that he would become the missing piece, finally solving the puzzle of a second productive wide receiver aside from a brilliant, record setting player in Michael Thomas.

After all, Sanders is one of five wide receivers with at least 500 yards in each of last eight seasons in the NFL. He is as consistent as it gets.

Sanders is also associated with winning.

In Pittsburgh, Sanders was part of a Super Bowl team in his rookie season of 2010.

In Denver, Sanders made a pair of Pro Bowls and was an integral part of a Super Bowl champion in 2015.

In San Francisco, Sanders was outstanding in 2019, helping the 49ers to reach the Super Bowl.

Clearly, the acquisition of Sanders was to upgrade the wide receiver position, a definite need for the Saints.

Nearly as important was adding a player accustomed to winning, who understands what it takes to win and has been where the Saints have been just once. Sanders has been to the Super Bowl three times, with three different teams. Winning is not coincidental. Neither are winners.

Winning has followed Sanders wherever he has played.

Now, he is in New Orleans to attempt to fill the void of the so-called “missing piece,” to get a talented, winning team over the hump of coming so close but falling short in excruciating fashion.

For such a time as this.

Now, with Michael Thomas likely sidelined, at least for one game, if not more, Sanders is poised to take a more pronounced role in the offense and to become a primary, rather than a secondary target for Drew Brees.

Sanders is qualified. He is proven. He is a natural leader who assimilates well to teammates and already has widespread respect in New Orleans.

Now is his time.

As a guest on First Take on ESPN Wednesday morning, Sanders talked about Thomas, his special qualities and how the Saints will deal with possibly not having their most productive player.

“I am in my 11th season and obviously, I spoke with Mike yesterday and he told me he’s going to take it day-by-day and see if he can make it back,” Sanders said. “When I talk about toughness, I’ve never been around a guy as tough as Mike and the way he approaches the game and the way that he loves the game and so I can’t count him out right now just because I know what type of mentality he has.”

Sanders knows that it is time for others to accept the challenge of assuming larger roles in the offense and producing.

“He’s (Thomas) going to give it all he can to try to make it back, but if he can’t make it back, then it’s always the next man up mentality,” Sanders said. “We’ve got guys like Bennie Fowler, Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris and we’re going to need those guys to step up and myself as well. We’ve got guys like Alvin Kamara and (Jared) Cook. We’ve got a lot of pieces and I feel like we can still go out and win a game.”

All during the offseason, the talk was about how good Tampa Bay was going to be, how the Bucs may be the team to beat, not only in the NFC South but in the NFC.

“The noise is really Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski and the team that they built,” Sanders said. “Now, we’ve got a different Buccaneers team in the NFC South. The noise is the noise but at the end of the day, we didn’t allow that to phase us. We wanted to go out and just start the season off 1-0 and try to go out and dominate these guys.”

Sanders admitted that the Saints wanted to make a statement.

“It wasn’t going out and trying to win,” Sanders said. “What I was hearing around the locker room was to go out and try to dominate like they (Saints) have been doing in the previous years. To be able to go out and do that and be 1-0, it feels good, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to see those guys again down the road and I tell you what, it was weird at first, running out of that tunnel with no fans, just the whole ambiance of the game.”

Despite the lack of fans, Sanders and his teammates eagerly await the rematch with the Bucs on Nov. 8 at Raymond James Stadium.

“It was weird so I’m looking forward to the next matchup as well vs. those guys and see if they can improve as well because I know they’ve got a lot of pieces that they’ve got to bring together and they’ve got to grow and gain that chemistry as well so I’m looking forward to seeing them again down the road,” Sanders said.

Does Sanders feel he is the final piece to the puzzle for the Saints to finally get back to the Super Bowl after 11 years?

“Before I signed with the Saints, I looked at the three previous years,” Sanders said. “I was actually at Mike Thomas’ house. We were just talking about playing for Drew (Brees). The past with the Saints, talking about the playoffs and the bad officiating that went on and just how they couldn’t get over that top and win it all.

For me, I’ve always said the moment I signed that deal, I wanted to be the energy, the new energy that’s brought in. I’m working on being that. I’m continuously being that.”

Thomas feels that the moment of truth will not come until the postseason arrives.

“We’ve got to get to that playoff moment and then, I feel like that’s when my energy can come about but as of right now during the regular season, I just want to be the guy that if teams want to double team Michael Thomas, I want when they’re watching film to say we can’t really double team this guy because you’ve got No. 17 on the right side of the field that’s dominating his matchup as well.”

Sanders believes in himself and believes in his team.

“I’ve always prided myself on being that guy that when a play needs to be made, I want them to know that if they are double teaming Michael Thomas and they do have Alvin Kamara that they can throw it to No. 17 as well and he can get us out of ball games as well,” Sanders said. “That’s my mentality and my approach and trying to win games.”

While Sanders has played with two of the all-time great quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, he has never played with anyone like Brees.

“Ah, man, you know every single day when this guy comes to work, I played with Peyton and Peyton, he’ll come around and Peyton had his routine,” Sanders said. “Peyton walked around and you rarely saw Peyton around the facility. I think I saw Peyton around the facility 15 or 20 times. He’s usually preparing off on his own. Every morning, I see Drew walking to work and he has this fire in his eyes which I’ve never seen in a player.

Just how he goes about work every single day with that determination. I’ve never seen it. I was telling Mike about it and it’s just like man, the way that he prepares like Saturday practices are so intense and the way he goes about his business and Mike is like you will see him. His arm will be twitching and like his face would be so locked in and he talks to you and he’s talking so intense.”

Sanders has already seen how locked in Brees is on he and his team being the best they can possibly be.

“I’ll never forget,” Sanders said. “We’re playing Tampa. We’re in the fourth quarter and we’re up by 17 with like five minutes left on the clock and Drew walks up to me and he’s like, ‘let’s go put more points on the board, let’s go throw for more yards. That’s the kind of guy that he is.

There’s a reason why this guy has thrown for more yards than any quarterback in the history of the game and I see it now because. He’s more competitive than anyone I’ve ever played with and I can say that about Mike Thomas well. The way that they go about their business, it makes everybody better around them.”

The offseason controversy concerning Brees’ comments on always standing for the national anthem caused some friction among teammates at the time but Sanders says it was a blip on the radar screen, that the team got past it quickly and is bonded tightly.

“I think right after Drew made those comments, for me, I even took to Twitter and just said that it was ignorant of what he said because he didn’t understand the timing in which he said it,” Sanders said.

Then came the moment of confronting a potentially divisive situation.

“We had a team meeting right after that and everybody was able to speak their opinion and then, this is really one of the first times that I saw Drew speak to the team,” Sanders said. “He apologizes because he didn’t even understand what he was saying, at the time. The more and more he talked, you just see a guy with just tears rolling down his face. I’ve never seen that.

You could just tell that he was hurt by his comments and the things that people were saying about him because he was unaware. I mean just tears flowing down his face. We all talked as a team and we understood where he was coming from and we were able to move past it.”

Are there any lingering hard feelings between Brees and any of his teammates?

“I don’t see any weird energy going on in the locker room with him or Malcolm or anybody because everybody kind of understands where Drew was coming from and hope to understand that he did make a mistake by saying that when it was just such a sensitive topic going on in the world,” Sanders said.

There is no question about how Sanders feels about Brees.

“Drew, just being around him, he’s probably one of the best teammates I’ve been around by the way he goes about his business and by the way he treats me, so I’ve got the utmost respect for him,” Sanders said.

Now, that respect will turn into increased productivity.

Sanders was brought to New Orleans…for such a time as this and for such a time when the Saints find themselves in a big, crucial playoff game situation.

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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