BALTIMORE — Mohamed Sanu is the anti-diva receiver. He pulls on sweatpants and a white tee for the ride home from Baltimore when others squeeze into designer denim because it’s cold out, and who cares what you’re wearing on the flight home.
He is not visibly excited by his 10-catch, 81-yard performance against the Ravens Sunday because it came in a loss, but he can reasonably acknowledge the positives that came from it while stressing the need to do better. It is understandable why Tom Brady seems to like him so much.
“I felt very comfortable, we just didn’t get the results that we wanted,” Sanu said. “They played great, they made more plays than we did. They have a great team over there.”
It was Sanu’s second game in New England since the Patriots, in need of a receiver, traded a second-round pick to the Falcons for him the week before the trade deadline. While he was worked in gradually last week, Sanu played extensive snaps Sunday against the Ravens when the Patriots used the same three-wide receiver set the vast majority of the time they were on offense.
New England will always be a game-plan team but it was notable for an offense searching for its identity to rely heavily on one grouping in a big game, and a clear sign of trust in Sanu that he and Julian Edelman were the top targets for Brady Sunday night, with Phillip Dorsett the third receiver in the group.
Sanu said he knew all week that was the game plan and he was ready to go and to rarely leave the field.
“We’re in pretty good shape so we knew what we were getting into and what to expect,” he said.
Playing a spread-out game in which Brady threw the ball 46 times compared to 17 rushing attempts for the Patriots’ backs, Sanu was targeted 14 times. Among his 10 catches was the Patriots’ first touchdown of the night, a score on third and goal from the Ravens 4-yard line. With that completed, Sanu became the 74th player to catch a touchdown pass from Brady, extending the quarterback’s record.
“He played hard, all the guys played hard,” Brady said. “Most of the guys were out there the whole night. Different times we had a really good rhythm and then other times we couldn’t get into it.”
Sanu seemed to hesitate just slightly on the route that led to the touchdown, evidence of an already-nuanced understanding of the play’s timing. He said the Patriots ran the play in practice during the week and also scored on it then.
“You’ve got to have timing,” Sanu said. “We practiced it, we executed it pretty good and we were able to get the score.”
One wrinkle in Baltimore’s defense that Sanu noticed was that the Ravens played a little bit more zone than the Patriots were expecting, though he said he felt New England adjusted to that. The Patriots did move the ball on offense, but didn’t finish drives and were hamstrung by turnovers, bad penalties, and getting demolished in the time-of-possession battle.
Sanu’s most questionable moment was on one of those turnovers, when he was the target on Brady’s interception in the fourth quarter. Sanu wasn’t able to lay a finger on Earl Thomas, the interceptor on the play, who returned the ball 24 yards.
“Like I said, we all need to do a better job,” coach Bill Belichick said, asked about Sanu’s progress.
But in general, there were far more positives than negatives from the new Patriot. He looks like a good fit for the offense. Brady seems eager to make it work well. Sanu said he already feels “very comfortable” in the offense.
And while the loss smarts, Sanu still has the perspective of knowing how the other half of the NFL lives and is acutely aware of how much the 8-1 Patriots have to play for.
“This is the kind of game that you want to play in as an athlete,” Sanu said. “Big-time games. You rise up to the competition, you want those kind of moments and want to be able to win in those situations but you’ve got to be able to make the plays in order to get the win and we didn’t do that today.
“We’re in a really great position,” he added. “We’re in a really great position.”