SANTA CLARA — If Christian McCaffrey becomes the NFL’s first player to score a touchdown in 18 consecutive games, he knows that feat Sunday in Jacksonville would reflect the efforts of his 49ers teammates.
Look for Deebo Samuel to be part of that bunch.
“It’s huge. It complements everybody, just having him on the field,” McCaffrey said Thursday. “He’s such a threat whenever he has the ball. He can make maybe a play that’s not going to work go and having that confidence that he’s out there means a lot to all of us.”
The 49ers (5-3) have lost three straight dating back to the Oct. 15 game in Cleveland, where Samuel exited in the first quarter of that 19-17 loss. Samuel later was diagnosed with a hairline fracture in his left shoulder.
Samuel only returned to practice this week, and his shoulder is feeling “pretty good” as he reprised his role of leading receivers through warmups.
“Not being part of the game is kind of hard, but I’ve kind of been there before, so it’s just the mental things of getting back and getting ready to play,” Samuel said.
Over the last three-and-a-half seasons, Samuel has missed a combined 17 games, including nine in 2020 because of foot, hamstring and COVID. Last season, he missed one game with a hamstring injury and a three-game stretch with ankle and knee issues.
When returning from injury, he has not been a major producer in games, except for an 11-catch, 133-yard effort in a November 2020 win at the Rams. He’s totaled 11 catches for 110 yards in his five other comeback games, none of which included a touchdown; last season, he had two catches for less than 25 yards in each game he returned from injury spells.
Regardless, Samuel’s presence looms larger than his production.
“He brings energy to the room, to the team,” wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk said. “Just a different energy out there at practice, different energy coming out of the bye.”
Samuel has 20 receptions for 302 yards and one touchdown this year, plus 18 carries for 95 yards and one touchdown.
With Brock Purdy starting every game, the crux of the 49ers’ offense has gone through McCaffrey (944 yards from scrimmage, 13 touchdowns), Aiyuk (620 receiving yards, two touchdowns) and George Kittle (443 receiving yards, two touchdowns).
The 49ers (5-3) will welcome any contributions from Samuel, McCaffrey or others as they look to win at the AFC South-leading Jaguars (6-2).
“We’ve got to really eliminate some of the times we kill ourselves,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “. … The times we’ve struggled, we’ve just made some key mistakes that I think we’re capable of not making.”
Mistakes such as penalties, turnovers, and improper alignments.
“We’re the ones who have slowed ourselves down,” Shanahan added. “When you look at how little we punted and things like that, you should have points to match with that. I don’t think we have the last few weeks. We’ve got to get more points.”
They’ve also got to get left tackle Trent Williams back in the lineup with Samuel. Williams also was hurt in that loss to the Browns, and he practiced Thursday for the first time since then.
“We just got to get back to what we do best and that’s just playing good ball, getting takeaways and staying on the field longer,” Samuel said of the 49ers’ state of play. “Our backs have been against the wall the past two years, so we made the best out of that opportunity, but overall we just want to get back to winning and whatever it takes to get there.”