Obviously, you only play 17 games in an NFL season, and both teams and players alike want to take advantage of every opportunity. But when it comes to star 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and a quick Thursday-night turnaround, maybe less is more.
Aiyuk injured his shoulder on Sunday against the Rams during the opening drive, and played just 30 snaps in the game. He caught three passes for 43 yards, a week after catching eight passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns in Pittsburgh. Aiyuk earned the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Week award for that performance.
The 49ers could use an all-around threat like Aiyuk against a Giants defense that looks ripe for the plucking, having given up 68 points, the most in the NFL. Aiyuk could be lined up for a huge year in the coming months.
But the Giants’ overall weakness is also a factor in keeping Aiyuk out on Thursday and giving him a full two weeks of rest—the 49ers likely can topple New York without Aiyuk on the field, and won’t risk further injury that way. According to the team’s general manager, those are the factors driving the decision.
“Brandon’s working really hard,” John Lynch told KNBR radio in San Francisco, per NBC Sports Bay Area. “He’s a warrior. You can see it in his play. He’s having fun, because everything’s starting to click for him. So I know he’s a guy who doesn’t want to miss.
“We clearly won’t put them out there if it’s not in his best interest but I think that situation is very fluid.”
Aiyuk Looking Like 49ers No. 1
The 49ers won’t have to make a call on Aiyuk until just 90 minutes before game time, because Thursday night games operate under different rules than Sunday games.
Missing games won’t be easy for Aiyuk because, as Lynch referenced, he appears to be hitting his stride now in his fourth NFL season at 25 years old. Aiyuk’s production has increased each season he has been in the league and he topped the 1,000-yard mark last year, with 78 catches, 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns, all of which are career highs.
Former All-Pro Deebo Samuel is still the 49ers No. 1 wide receiver, but a rough showing last year—there was an on-again-off-again trade request, followed by hamstring and ankle injuries—paved the way for Aiyuk to eventually take over that mantle from him.
Because Aiyuk originally played through the pain on Sunday when he suffered the injury, coach Kyle Shanahan figured he’d be good to play on Thursday.
“I wouldn’t think so,” Shanahan said when asked if Aiyuk’s injury was serious. “I mean I know he was hurting a little bit, but he was able to play through it. So, I think he’ll be alright.”
Giants’ Saquon Barkley Ruled Out
One guy who won’t be all right for Thursday is Giants running back Saquon Barkley, who has been on an injury roller coaster ride this week. Barkley hurt his ankle in the Giants’ wild win over Arizona on Sunday, and was believed to be out for several weeks.
But then it was reported that the Giants held out hope that Barkley could be healthy when the team rolls into the Bay Area, as coach Brian Daboll noted Barkley is a, “quick healer.” That hope has been extinguished, though, with Barkley officially ruled out for Thursday.