BALTIMORE — The New England Patriots lost their bid for an undefeated season Sunday night, but they found a bona fide running mate for top receiver Julian Edelman.
After posting modest numbers last week in his Patriots debut, recently acquired veteran wideout Mohamed Sanu broke out 10 catches on a team-high 14 targets for 81 yards and a touchdown in New England’s 37-20 loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
“We definitely took a couple strides today,” Sanu said after the game. “Still got a ways to go.”
In an unusual move for a Patriots offense that typically deploys a varied array of formations and packages, New England spent nearly all of Sunday night’s game in “11” personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers), which resulted in a drastic uptick in playing time for Sanu.
Sanu and Edelman were on the field for every one of the Patriots’ 67 offensive snaps. Phillip Dorsett missed one due to injury but quickly returned. Sanu, who played just over half of New England’s snaps (53.6 percent) in his first game with the team, was prepared and excited for the heavy workload.
“We’re in pretty good shape,” said Sanu, who tied his career highs for targets and catches in the loss. “We knew what we were getting into, and we knew what to expect. This was the kind of game that you want to play in as an athlete — big-time games. Rise up to the competition. You want those kinds of moments, but we have got to make the kind of plays in order to get the win, and we didn’t do that today.”
Six of Sanu’s 10 catches against the Ravens resulted in first downs, and another gave the Patriots their first touchdown of the night — a much-needed response after Baltimore shot out to a 17-0 lead. On his score, Sanu aligned in the tight slot inside tight end Ben Watson and used the traffic created by Watson and a motioning Edelman to find open space near the goal line on a quick out.
Sanu, whose arrival in New England coincided with the abrupt departure of former No. 2 receiver Josh Gordon, said he was confident the play would work because he and his teammates had executed it perfectly in practice. Less than two weeks into his Patriots tenure, the 30-year-old already feels “really comfortable” in New England’s notoriously complex offense.
Sanu’s next nine targets resulted in completions of 6, 10, 8, 11, 15, 11, 4, 3 and 9 yards before the quickly blossoming connection between him and quarterback Tom Brady faltered. With the Patriots trailing by 10 early in the fourth quarter, Brady threw a pass behind Sanu in the flat that was nearly picked off, then heaved one deep to the ex-Atlanta Falcon that was intercepted by safety Earl Thomas.
“He played hard,” said Brady, who raved about Sanu last week and reportedly advocated for the wideout’s trade to New England. “All the guys played hard. Most of the guys were out there the whole night. At different times, we had really good rhythm, and then others we just couldn’t quite get into it. But that’s NFL football.”
Brady could have been describing the Patriots’ team as a whole with that assessment. They held up well defensively in the middle two quarters but struggled mightily in the first and fourth. The offense had major issues in pass protection and had to settle for two short field goals, and Edelman’s third-quarter fumble, which cornerback Marlon Humphrey returned 70 yards for a touchdown, tainted an otherwise excellent night from Brady’s favorite target (10 catches, 89 yards).
Still, the Patriots sit at an AFC-best 8-1 heading into their Week 10 bye, with a formidable defense and an offense that should continue to improve once receiver N’Keal Harry (off injured reserve but inactive Sunday night) and left tackle Isaiah Wynn (eligible to return from IR in Week 12) rejoin the fray.
“We’re in a great position,” Sanu said. “We’re in a really great position. We’ve just got to go out and work.”
Thumbnail photo via Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Sports Images