Sanu carries Bengals offense with Green sidelined
CINCINNATI (AP) Mohamed Sanu has made the spectacular, game-turning plays with Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green sidelined the last three weeks because of an injured toe. Soon, the Bengals might have them on the field together.
Sanu had two pivotal catches on Sunday during a 27-24 victory over the Baltimore Ravens that moved Cincinnati (4-2-1) back in first place in the AFC North. He also had a 26-yard run on a reverse.
The third-year receiver has developed into the Bengals' most versatile player, one who can complete a long pass, catch one and turn the corner with his quarterback as a lead blocker.
''Mo's been playing great,'' Andy Dalton said. ''I have a lot of confidence in him, and he has a lot of confidence in himself that he's going to make plays.''
With Green hobbled by an injured big right toe since the season opener, Sanu has become the Bengals' big-play threat. He leads the team with 35 catches for 533 yards and three touchdowns. Sanu also has completed two passes for 68 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown to Dalton.
In addition, Sanu has 31 yards on three reverses this season. He ran the ball twice on Sunday, with Dalton among the lead blockers both times. The quarterback got out of the way on the first one, but took down a Ravens defender and got the wind knocked out of him on the other one.
''I saw that, too,'' Sanu said. ''As soon as that happened I looked down and cringed a little bit. The first time (Dalton got out of the way), I was like, `Good job, good job.' But the second time it was like, `Hey, you don't have to do that sometimes.'''
Green has missed the last three games, but resumed running last week. Coach Marvin Lewis is optimistic that he could do more this week. It's unclear whether Green could play on Sunday against Jacksonville (1-7) at Paul Brown Stadium.
''He's been doing very well,'' Lewis said on Monday. ''We'll see how things are this week and how he comes through the week.''
The offense is looking forward to getting them both on the field at the same time, forcing defenses to decide how to keep up with two deep-threat receivers.
''Now it's going to be that they're going to have to play us straight-up,'' Sanu said. ''They can't double-cover any one of us. They're going to have to play man-to-man. That's what we want.''
Sanu made the best catch of his pro career on the opening drive Sunday. Dalton threw a pass high over the middle, and Sanu pulled it down with his right hand and kept going for a 48-yard gain. The play set up Dalton's 1-yard touchdown sneak.
If Sanu didn't get the high pass, it would have likely been intercepted.
''I just knew I had to go up and try to at least make an attempt to catch the ball,'' Sanu said.
He also set up Dalton's game-winning sneak in the closing minutes. Trailing 24-20 with 3:48 to go, the Bengals had third-and-10 from their own 20. Lewis was mulling over what to do if that pass was incomplete, too.
''That's a good decision not to make,'' Lewis said on Monday. ''Unfortunately, those are the decisions we get into there. We had three timeouts left and the two-minute warning, so I think you've got to punt the football if that situation arose.''
Dalton didn't see anyone open, scrambled away from the pass rush and threw deep to Sanu, whose 53-yard catch set up the quarterbacks' game-winning sneak with 57 seconds left.
The Bengals drafted Sanu in the third round in 2012 because of his versatility. Receiver Marvin Jones - taken two rounds later in the same draft - emerged as Green's main complement last season, leaving Sanu with a lesser role.
Jones has missed the entire season with a broken foot and an ankle injury, giving Sanu his chance.
''It's been what we really expected from Mo,'' Lewis said. ''He and Marvin have always jockeyed for position. He's got it back, and he's taking full advantage of the whole thing. It's great.''
Notes: Right guard Kevin Zeitler reinjured his right calf in the fourth quarter on Sunday, but the injury isn't as serious as the one earlier in the season, when he was sidelined for three games. ... LB Vontaze Burfict left Sunday's game with an injured left knee but returned and finished it. Lewis said the injury isn't serious.
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