FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots are coming off their bye, and as they look ahead to a challenging four-game stretch, one statistic stands out as a reminder of how new wide receiver Mohamed Sanu will be a critical piece for them: 14 for No. 14.
Sanu, whose old No. 12 wasn’t available to him in New England (a certain quarterback has that), happily slipped into 14 — and then in his second game with the team, he was targeted 14 times.
Only two other receivers — Seattle’s Tyler Lockett (18) and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans (16) — were targeted more by their quarterbacks in Week 9, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Considering the Patriots played an up-tempo style, sometimes not huddling, it was a decisive reflection of how quickly quarterback Tom Brady has developed a trust and rapport with Sanu.
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“I certainly have a way that I like the receivers to play, so it’s hard to get someone up to speed in a very short period of time. But he’s done everything we could expect and more,” Brady said of Sanu in an interview on the Patriots All-Access program.
“Him having the targets the other night, making the plays — not only his hands, his run-after-catch, his toughness; we’re definitely going to have some fun working together the second half of the year as he gets more comfortable and confident in what we’re doing and we gain more of a shared vision of how we see things.”
Such a quick connection is what the Patriots envisioned when they traded a 2020 second-round draft choice to the Atlanta Falcons to acquire Sanu on Oct. 22.
Brady said Sanu, 30, has been fun to be around because he brings “juice.” The personable Sanu joked that he brings the “juice and the squeeze.”
Exactly what that is has been reflected in Sanu’s first two games with the Patriots. In a win against the Cleveland Browns, he caught a 4-yard pass on fourth-and-4, which was a foundation-type play on which he and Brady have built.
Sanu finished with two catches for 23 yards in that game (his other grab was a contested 19-yarder on a crossing route) before following up with 10 receptions for 81 yards and one touchdown in the Week 9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. He became the 74th player to catch a touchdown pass from Brady, which extended Brady’s NFL record.
“We’re seeing how we work off each other and we’re learning each other as we’re going along,” Sanu said.
The Brady-Sanu connection — which also showed signs of newness on one down-the-field interception against the Ravens — should once again be a big part of the Patriots’ attack in Sunday’s road game against the Philadelphia Eagles (CBS, 4:25 p.m. ET).
The Eagles have struggled in pass coverage. And because the Patriots have not consistently generated a rushing attack, the offense has been relying more on Brady and the aerial attack. With little pass-catching production from tight ends, New England’s receivers have been called upon to carry a heavy load.
Julian Edelman is the clear-cut No. 1 receiver, with Phillip Dorsett recently paired with him in two-receiver sets, and Sanu the No. 3 option doing his best work in the middle of the field and in the short-to-intermediate areas. Undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski have been next on the depth chart.
Getting 2019 first-round draft choice N’Keal Harry back into the mix — he was elevated to the 53-man roster from injured reserve on Nov. 2 — adds another outside option in three- and four-receiver packages.
It’s part of a developing picture, one in which Sanu has quickly become a central figure.