The problem with having a secret weapon comes when that secret ends.
The red-hot Cincinnati Bengals file the emergence of rookie wide receiver Mohamed Sanu under the category of good problems to have.
The Bengals have won three straight, all in dominant fashion, and Sanu has caught touchdown passes in all three. A healthy scratch in game six of the season who was still getting acclimated to the NFL game and trying to crack the Bengals’ crowded but ever-changing receiver rotation, he enters the season’s 12th game as a player opposing defenses have to watch.
Considering the Bengals have been searching for a year now for a someone to make those defenses pay for watching A.J. Green with two (and sometimes three) defenders, Sanu finding a groove is a big plus for the offense.
Hence, the results of late — and the excitement for a stretch run, starting in San Diego, for a Bengals team that’s back at 6-5 after being left for dead in October.
“I am simply trying to get better day in and day out,” Sanu said. “I work hard and am getting more opportunities to make plays on the field.
“Just getting out there and doing it, it’s a big part. It is very important. The more reps you get the better feel you get for the game. It really helps your confidence a lot too.”
Sanu has 16 catches on the season, 11 in the last three weeks. His biggest game was his most recent, last Sunday against the Raiders, when his first catch was a one-handed, six-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone that made just about every weekly NFL highlight reel there is.
“Oh, that was a nice one,” Green said. “I’m very impressed.”
Asked if he was ready to start matching Green catch-for-catch when it came to those improbable one-handers, Sanu smiled and said “not yet.”
The rookie knows his place, but he’s also finding his place on the field. He finished the Raiders game with five catches for 29 yards and his first multi-touchdown game. The volume has helped him both learn on the fly and feel more comfortable, as he was almost always busy in his college career at Rutgers, where he caught a Big East-record 210 passes in three seasons.
The Bengals have come out of their bye week a different offense, with Andy Dalton sharp, making big throws and taking full advantage of his newest weapon’s emergence.
“We just have to stay aggressive in what we’re doing,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “The players are really taking to things. Guys are seeing that no matter where you started a week ago, you might be the guy in the line of fire next week, so make sure you’re ready when your number gets called. Mo Sanu took full advantage of an opportunity. (Brandon) Tate’s taken advantage.
“So, we’re getting guys doing that. That’s been the best thing, I think. The response.”
Said Dalton: “Sanu has a good feel for the game and what we’re trying to do. He’s got a big body and is a talented guy. He’s kind of moving around and letting his natural ability show.”
With Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham, Dalton and the Bengals have their 1-2 punch. Andrew Hawkins flashed big-play ability early in the season, and his injury-related absence the last two games opened the door for Sanu to be that third, important and often overlooked playmaker. Hawkins is back at practice, but Sanu has arrived. If the Bengals are just getting to full strength and full stride for December, maybe Dalton will stay hot.
Maybe the points will keep coming.
“Mo Sanu has been a great lift for us, getting him up and running full-time,” Lewis said. “He’s been a great asset opposite A.J., and that’s been big for us.”