Broncos' Sanders has highlight-reel grab in return

DENVER -- Eight months and 14 days after Emmanuel Sanders suffered a torn Achilles tendon, the Denver Broncos receiver was back in uniform on Monday, helmet on, making tacklers miss.

Sanders, who suffered his injury in a Dec. 5 practice, has promised throughout the Broncos' offseason program as well as training camp to be ready by Week 1 of the regular season. After steadily increasing his workload in practice the past two weeks, Sanders played on the first three possessions of Denver's 24-15 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Sanders did not play in the Broncos' first two preseason games and said his feeling during the national anthem Monday might have been second only to his feelings before Super Bowl 50.

"It's up there, it's up there,'' Sanders said. "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' return was certainly the highlight for the Broncos' offense, but injuries to rookies Drew Lock (right thumb/hand) and tight end Noah Fant were the flip side. Lock, who left the game after the Broncos' first possession of the third quarter, had a small splint on his right hand/wrist following the game and, when asked if the injury would keep him out of the Broncos' next preseason game on Saturday against the Los Angeles Rams, said he'd know more Tuesday.

Fant left the game in the first half but stayed on the sideline, in uniform, for the rest of the night. The rookie tight end was limping after the game. Of both injuries, Broncos coach Vic Fangio said, "I think they're mild in nature, but we'll see [Tuesday] or the next day.''

Sanders was the first player introduced to the crowd Monday, as he sprinted out of the tunnel to open the announcement of the starting offense. Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco wasted no time getting Sanders involved, with a 5-yard throw to Sanders on the offense's first play from scrimmage.

Three plays later, Flacco flipped the ball to Sanders on an end-around, and Sanders went for a 19-yard run. He also had a 45-yard catch up the left sideline on a third-and-14 from the Broncos' 48-yard line, but it was called back because of a holding penalty on Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles.

In all, Sanders was in the lineup for most of the Broncos' first three possessions of the game. He finished with the 19-yard run to go with the catch, as he was targeted twice.

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

"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 said. "... Getting him going [Monday] was definitely huge for our offense.''

Sanders was held out of the Broncos' offseason program and a limited participant as the team worked through the early days of training camp. With an appearance in the Hall of Fame Game, the Broncos were the first team in the league to open camp when all players reported on July 17. Sanders' workload had been steadily increased, and he was almost in a full rotation this past week, including two joint workouts with the 49ers on Friday and Saturday.

Early last week, Sanders punctuated some catches in a red zone drill by dunking the football over the crossbar. Sanders said this past week that he thought he needed to play in the preseason to "get in the groove for the first regular-season game.''

There's no question about his importance in the offense. Despite missing the last four games of the season in 2018, Sanders finished as the team leader in receptions (71, 29 more than the next player) and receiving yards (868) and finished tied for the team lead in touchdown catches, with four.

Asked if he would play again in the preseason, Sanders said Monday, "I don't know, [I'll] talk to coach Fangio and see where we go.''