This is going to be a great football quiz for Mohamed Sanu to tell his buddies one day, when he’s long gone from the NFL.
“Who,” Sanu will ask, “is the only man in NFL history to throw touchdown passes to A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and Julio Jones?”
“Trick question!” his buddies will shout in unison.
“Nope,” Sanu will say. “It happened. The answer is me.”
A couple of amazing things about the latest installment in the Sanu passing phenomenon. He did it Sunday, in the 34-20 victory over Tampa Bay, in a game the Falcons needed to win in order to have a solid chance to top the tightly contested NFC South for the second straight year. And he did it with one of the prettiest throws of the NFL season. In a tie game early in the second quarter, Sanu lined up to take a shotgun snap with the ball at the Atlanta 49-yard line. He bobbled the ball off a fake handoff, collected it, set up confidently at the Falcons 43, and spied Jones running stride for stride with rookie Bucs safety Justin Evans down the left seam. Sanu threw a high, arcing spiral—no wobble—that somehow was timed perfectly for Jones.
The throw was incredible, the kind a strong-armed passer like Elway or Favre or Vick would have made. And the accuracy … it could not have been placed better had it been affixed there by a Pixar artist. It traveled 57 yards exactly, landing in Jones’ arms at the goal line. Touchdown. The Falcons never trailed the rest of the day.
“It was called,” Sanu said, “and I was glad it was called. I just wanted to make a play for my team. I knew I could do it. It’s really not new to me. When I threw it, I knew he was going to come down with it. That’s Julio.”
But … a perfect 57-yard spiral, lofted to a perfect spot to the best receiver in football?
Sanu sounded like he was explaining how he goes for coffee every morning. To say he was unimpressed with that throw would be a pretty big understatement.
“I mean, we play catch here every day,” Sanu said from the Falcons locker room. “I do this every day.”
Sanu is a Jersey kid, recruited to Rutgers in 2009 by then-coach Greg Schiano as an athlete after being an option quarterback at South Brunswick High. He started at safety and switched to wideout in spring practice before his first season. In three college years, he was only eight of 18 as a quarterback. But when the Bengals drafted him as a receiver in 2012, they saw his history and immediately put in some option routes and pure pass plays. The 73-yard TD pass to Green came at Washington in the second game of his career. The 18-yard touchdown to Dalton came in his third season, against Tennessee. Strange thing: He went 50 straight games (including playoffs) before Sunday without attempting a throw—even though he’d never thrown an NFL incompletion.
Amazing to me that in Sanu’s last 22 games in Cincinnati, and in 19 games (including playoffs) for imaginative Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and then in the first nine games this year, Sanu never got his name called to throw a pass. Fifty games, no passes. With that arm? Surprising.
“We’ve had some plays for me in [the game plan],” Sanu said. “They just never got called. Since Coach Sark [offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian] got here, I’m pretty sure everybody around here told him I could do this.”
“Did you know you’ve got a perfect quarterback rating in NFL?” I told him. “Higher than Tom Brady.”
“That’s pretty cool,” Sanu said. “He’s the GOAT.”
Sanu’s six-year NFL passing line:
“No surprise to me,” Sanu said. “I’ve been doing it all my life.”
Looks like it.