Patriots

Mohamed Sanu hip to Tom Brady fourth-down hot route: 'We're going to have some fun'

Mohamed Sanu hip to Tom Brady fourth-down hot route: 'We're going to have some fun'

FOXBORO — Tom Brady smiled wide as he spoke to the newest member of the Patriots offense inside the Patriots locker room Sunday night. Seemed like, as far as Brady was concerned, Mohamed Sanu was already fitting in just fine.

"Great job, man," Brady said as he went in for a hug. "That's awesome."

Sanu ended up playing 36 snaps in his Patriots debut, a 27-13 win over the Browns. It wasn't a full workload, but he was able to do a little bit of everything in his first live foray into the Patriots offense.

He played in the slot and outside. He blocked. He caught two passes for 23 yards. And he got to see how the Patriots celebrate.

"[Matthew] Slater gave probably the best postgame speech I've ever heard in my life," he said. "I mean, it was unbelievable. I was ready to go play another whole game. I was like, 'What!?' They were like, 'He does this after every game.' I was like, 'Wow.' It was incredible."

It was the culmination of a busy week for the 30-year-old receiver. On Tuesday, the Patriots sent a second-round pick to the Falcons in order to acquire Sanu. He quickly made his way to Foxboro from Cincinnati without even a change of clothes, he said.

🏈 PATRIOTS 27, BROWNS 13

On Wednesday, Bill Belichick joked that he and Sanu had gone "way back" to Sanu's days at Rutgers when he was teammates with Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Steve Belichick. (He missed Jason McCourty by a year.) Sanu practiced with the Patriots for the first time Wednesday afternoon.

Through the week, he put in extra time with receivers coach Joe Judge and assistant Troy Brown, watching film and going over formations. At night, he took part in walkthroughs with younger receivers on the team, trying to get as much as he could of the Patriots offense down before the Browns got to town.

Between Judge, Brown, Brady, Josh McDaniels, Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett, Sanu had plenty of mentors to lean on.

"He worked really hard," Belichick said. "He spent a lot of extra time with everybody, especially Joe and Troy. Obviously, Josh, Tom and the other receivers, Phil and Jules and those guys. But he worked hard, and I thought he gained a lot of ground on the offense. Hopefully, he'll be further ahead next week but I'm glad he's here and hopefully he'll be able to contribute for us."

"I think it’s just going to be more and more confidence as he keeps going," Brady said. "He made a huge catch for us on fourth down, had a good crosser that he made a nice catch on, so keep just trying to find ways to get him the ball."

Brady tried to get Sanu the ball on the first drive of the game. On a second-and-nine snap, Sanu ran a quick stop route from the slot between two defenders. Brady's pass was low and to Sanu's left — he might've anticipated that Sanu would stop sooner — and it glanced off the receiver's hands incomplete.

🏈 PATRIOTS 27, BROWNS 13

It wasn't until the first play of the next drive that Sanu really made an impact play. On a crack toss to the left of the offensive formation, Sanu motioned down toward the line and laid a block on defensive end Myles Garrett. Sony Michel ran for seven yards, and Sanu was settled in.

"Gotta get that first contact to get your blood flowing," he said after the game. Then it's like, 'All right. Cool. Time to lock in.' " 

In the second quarter, Sanu made his first catch on a fourth-down play that served as statement to anyone who's watched the Patriots offense over the years. Brady's trust in critical spots isn't easily earned. That he was willing to throw to his newest teammate on a fourth-down snap early in the game spoke volumes. 

It served as an indication that the offense was short on chain-moving options after Edelman and James White. It also made it pretty clear that — whether it was based on his history with the Falcons or simply where Sanu was situated on the field for that particular play — Brady believed in him as a go-to option with a turnover on downs looming if it didn't go well. 

If Sanu wasn't at the right depth, if his hands weren't ready, the Patriots were giving the football away. 

Not only was he ready, not only was he at just the right depth (the Browns actually challenged the spot unsuccessfully), but the play was the result of Sanu picking up Brady's "alert" signal before the snap and remembering an adjustment Brady told him about early in the week. If the Browns brought pressure against that particular alignment with Sanu as "No. 3" — the inner-most option in a three-receiver alignment — he'd have to react quickly.

The Browns sent five pass-rushers, and Sanu recalled back to the hot route Brady told him about early in the week.

"He saw the same thing I saw," Sanu said. "We was on the same page, and I just made sure I was at the right place at the right time for him. We talked about it earlier in the week. He was like, 'Just be prepared if we're in this formation and this...' [That's] exactly what happened. Exactly. I saw him, I saw it, and I was like, 'Bet.' We just executed."

They executed again later in the game when Brady threw one of several pinpoint passes on the night to Sanu on a deep over route in the fourth quarter. As Sanu trotted out of bounds with a first down, the Gillette Stadium crowd cheered, "SANUUUUUU!"

"We're gonna get more of that going," Sanu said of the response. "We're gonna get more of that going . . . I heard it. I was like, 'All right.' It gave me a little more juice."

The Patriots are hoping Sanu will give their offense more juice moving forward as he picks up more and more with each game plan. There's certainly room for growth as that side of the ball went 7-for-18 on third and fourth-down conversion attempts and 2-for-6 in the red zone against Cleveland. 

As Brady left the locker room to handle his postgame media responsibilities, he told Sanu to come back ready to work. They had one game in the books together, and while there was enough there to make the quarterback (a quarterback who reportedly pushed for Sanu to be New England's trade target ahead of the deadline) smile wide after the fact, they knew they'd only scratched the surface of what they should be able to do after some time together.

"Once I get my feet wet a little more," Sanu said, "we're gonna have some fun."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Patriots rumors: Latest buzz on free agents Devin McCourty, Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy

Patriots rumors: Latest buzz on free agents Devin McCourty, Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy

Tom Brady isn't the only important free agent the New England Patriots have to consider re-signing this offseason.

The strength of the Patriots in 2019 was their defense, and several valuable members of that unit have expiring contracts. Among that group are linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, as well as safety Devin McCourty.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Here are the latest updates on those three Patriots free agents with a few weeks to go before the market opens.

Devin McCourty
McCourty is the fifth-longest tenured Patriots player behind Brady, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, wide receiver Julian Edelman and special teams ace Matthew Slater. He's been one of the team's best players and leaders since he was selected in the first round of the 2010 draft. McCourty's five-year, $47.5 million contract is about to expire, and even though he's 32 years old, his talent is still impressive. 

Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reported Thursday "the understanding is the Patriots want the veteran safety back."

McCourty has not missed a game since the 2014 season. He tallied 58 total tackles, two forced fumbles (one recovery) and seven passes defensed last season. His five interceptions were tied for the second-most in the league. The Patriots secondary ranked among the league's best in the 2019 campaign and held opposing quarterbacks to a league-low 56.5 completion percentage. McCourty played an important role in that success, and the Pats would be wise to bring him back.

Kyle Van Noy
The Patriots acquiring Kyle Van Noy and a seventh-round draft pick from the Detroit Lions in exchange for a sixth-round pick in October of 2016 turned out to be one of their best trades in recent memory. Van Noy has been a fixture of New England's linebacker group since his arrival, and he's helped the team win two Super Bowl titles over that span.

USA TODAY Sports' Henry McKenna reported Thursday that Van Noy's camp and the Patriots aren't scheduled to meet this week.

Van Noy tallied 56 total tackles, 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles (two recoveries), three passes defensed and a touchdown last season. He's also been pretty durable with zero games missed due to injury since 2017.

If Van Noy hits the open market, he'll be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

Jamie Collins
Collins returned to the Patriots last season after a disappointing two-year run with the Cleveland Browns, and the veteran linebacker re-established himself as a top-tier player in Bill Belichick's defense.

The Boston Globe's Jim McBride tweeted Thursday that Collins "is expected to have many suitors." This isn't surprising given how well Collins played in 2019.

Collins led the Patriots defense in total tackles (81) and sacks (seven) last season, while also tallying three forced fumbles (one recovery), seven passes defensed, one touchdown and a career-high three interceptions.

Curran: What happens when the GOAT feels like a lame duck?

Patriots told Vanderbilt tight end Jared Pinkney he had 'loser's mentality' in combine interview

Patriots told Vanderbilt tight end Jared Pinkney he had 'loser's mentality' in combine interview

Under Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots have created a very defined culture. They don't deal with nonsense and players they pick often have specific traits and ways of thinking that fit their winning culture.

And Vanderbilt tight end Jared Pinkney found out about this the hard way at the 2020 NFL Combine.

The NFL hopeful described his meeting with the Patriots during the combine and spoke of their dedication to culture and how one wrong answer made the team say that Pinkney's response was "a loser's mentality."

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

“It’s interesting, because [with] a team that’s been winning for as long as they have, you expect them to come in with a certain mentality and to share that mentality and to spread it and impart it on you,” Pinkney said, per NESN's Zack Cox. “And that’s exactly what happened. I gave a kind of wonky answer, and it was like, ‘No, that’s a loser’s mentality.’ And I was like, ‘OK, my bad.’ [raises hands] They were like, ‘You need to be like this and that and that,’ and I was like, ‘Yes, sir. I’m better.’ ”

That had to be an uncomfortable moment for Pinkney, but he surely isn't the first prospect to have something like that happen to him at the combine. And that was just one of the responses he gave during his session with the team, so he probably did fine overall.

It's no surprise that the Patriots interviewed Pinkey, who our own Phil Perry identified as a Prototypical Patriot to watch in the Senior Bowl. And the Patriots are looking to add some talent at tight end, as they got little to no production out of their triage of Matt LaCosse, Ben Watson, and Ryan Izzo last season and never properly replaced Rob Gronkowski after his retirement during the 2019 offseason.

Pinkney (6-foot-4, 257 pounds) had 20 catches for 223 yards and two touchdowns as a senior. His most productive collegiate season came as a junior in 2018 when he grabbed 50 passes for 774 yards and seven touchdowns.