When Mohamed Sanu reflects on his days with the Cincinnati Bengals, he thinks about the good times he shared bowling alongside fellow wide receiver A.J. Green and the great meals he enjoyed at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse.
“It was a cool city,” Sanu said. “The fans were awesome. Had a couple things to do, nice restaurants. That’s where I started my career. I’m just grateful I had the opportunity to play ball there.”
Sanu, a third-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2012, is in the fourth-year of the five-year, $32.5 million contract ($14 million guaranteed) he signed with the Atlanta Falcons in March 2016. Sunday is likely to strike up some old memories as Sanu faces Green and his former team in a 1 p.m. ET game (CBS) for the first time since leaving.
“Me and A.J. definitely had a good relationship,” Sanu said. “We hung out and did things together. I definitely was close to [former Bengals receivers coach] James Urban. Just being around the guys, being in the locker room with guys like Hawk [ESPN personality Andrew Hawkins], I’d say those were the most memorable moments. Just hanging out with my brothers.”
Sanu holds no ill feelings toward the Bengals, who made one contract offer before Sanu opted to go the free-agent route. The offer showed the Bengals viewed Sanu more as a No. 3 receiver behind Green and Marvin Jones, although Jones eventually left the same year to sign a lucrative deal with the Detroit Lions. Tyler Boyd has emerged as a dangerous threat behind Green for the Bengals this season.
Also, Cincinnati must have been on Sanu’s mind when he decided to get some custom cleats done of Cincinnati native and funk artist Bootsy Collins.
The Falcons and wide receivers coach Raheem Morris saw Sanu as the perfect complement to Julio Jones as a physical receiver capable of beating up opponents out of the slot. And even with the addition of talented rookie Calvin Ridley this season, the Falcons don’t take for granted what Sanu brings to the offense.
“I don’t know who don’t appreciate him,” Jones said of Sanu. “In our locker room, we appreciate Mohamed. Everything about him — just as a person, the physicality, the way he plays the game, everything about him and what he stands for.”
In 33 games with the Falcons, Sanu has 136 receptions for 1,429 yards, 10 touchdowns and 79 first downs on 193 targets. All 10 of his scores have come in the red zone, where he’s been targeted 24 times and has 17 receptions. About the only thing he’d like to take back is the four drops from last season. And, oh, by the way, Sanu can pass the ball on occasion — he is 6-for-6 for 228 yards and three touchdowns in his career, including a 51-yard score to Jones last season. Plus Sanu relishes blocking.
In last week’s 43-37 overtime loss to New Orleans, Sanu followed up a 5-yard touchdown catch from Matt Ryan late in the fourth with a catch for the two-point conversion. It gave him an opportunity to hand footballs to both his mother and girlfriend, sitting in the end zone seats.
“It was cool because they are definitely big supporters for me,” Sanu said. “To have them there and be able to give them a ball in that moment, it was a pretty cool experience.”
The Falcons hope Sanu crosses the goal line in many more games to come with the offense needing to compensate for the injury-plagued defense. Again, he’s not overlooked by his teammates and coaches despite being fourth on the team in catches with 10, behind Jones (20), Ridley (11) and tight end Austin Hooper (11).
“Mo’s ‘Steady Eddie,'” offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. “We know what we’re going to get out of him. He’s a very, very bright football player. He’s got a high football IQ, extremely competitive. Some of the best hands I’ve ever seen. [He] can make competitive catches, especially at the critical moments.
“I think it’s difficult to defend all five of our guys every play. It’s our job to find the guy that is getting the best matchup. Mo’s going to get those shots to be even more involved than he’s been.”