Bengals novelty Mohamed Sanu: He, too, shall pass

A wide receiver who can throw the ball. What football coach wouldn’t want one of those? In Mohamed Sanu, the Bengals have one of the best ever — and we’re not prone to historical hyperbole around here.

Sanu is in just his third season, so it might seem early to be making such pronouncements. But his stats say otherwise. After his 50-yard strike to Brandon Tate in a Week 3 win over the Falcons, the numbers look like this: 3 attempts, 3 completions, 148 yards, 1 touchdown, 158.3 rating. (That’s as high, of course, as ratings get.)

Put it this way: Only two wideouts in NFL history have thrown for more yards than Sanu, and both played a lot longer than he has. Heck, a mere nine have thrown for as many as 100 yards. The group Sanu has joined:


Years Wideout Team(s) Att Comp Yds TD Int Rating
2002-10 Antwaan Randle El Steelers, Redskins 27 22 323 6 0 156.1
1973-83 Drew Pearson Cowboys 7 5 192 3 2 113.7
2012-14 Mohamed Sanu Bengals 3 3 148 1 0 158.3
1952-59 Bill McColl Bears 6 2 138 1 2 81.9
1999-09 Marty Booker Bears, Dolphins 10 3 126 2 0 118.7
1992-96 Arthur Marshall Broncos 2 2 111 2 0 158.3
1969-76 Marlin Briscoe Bills, Dolphins, Lions 9 4 108 0 1 49.5
1998-12 Randy Moss Vikings 8 4 106 2 1 95.8
1981-92 Jim Jensen Dolphins 7 4 102 2 0 141.4

Note: A team is only listed if the receiver threw a pass for it. Briscoe broke in as a quarterback with the Broncos, so only his passing statistics as a wideout are included.

One player who isn’t on the list is Hall of Fame end Bill Hewitt, who tossed three TD passes for the Bears — all in the 1933 season. The play Hewitt ran was dubbed the Stinky Special, not because George Halas was a stinker to call it but because Stinky was Bill’s nickname.

Years ago, I asked Ray Nolting, a teammate of Hewitt’s, where the nickname came from. “If we won a ballgame,” he told me, “he’d wear the same jockstrap until we got beat. Wouldn’t wash it. Our

Helmetless Bill Hewitt

Helmetless Bill Hewitt

trainer, Andy Lotshaw, would complain about how much he smelled. One time we were on a six-game winning streak, and Bill hopped up on the trainer’s table on Monday and asked Andy for a rubdown. ‘OK,’ Andy said, ‘turn over.’ So Bill turned over, and Andy took the scissors and cut the jockstrap off. Boy, was Bill mad. He chased Andy all around the locker room. Busted our luck, too. We lost the next one.”

Hewitt also was famous for playing without a helmet, as you can see in the accompanying photo.

Getting back to Sanu, he’s a natural for such trickery because he was an option quarterback in high school and, when he wasn’t catching passes Rutgers, ran coach Greg Schiano’s wildcat offense. “As a receiver, defenses can do things to take you out of the game if they want to,” Schiano said in 2009. “By putting him in the wildcat, we know he’s getting the touch. He may hand off to somebody, but when we want him to keep it, he’s keeping it.”

The Bengals have gotten the ball to Sanu a variety of ways. The first time he threw it, in his second NFL game, he gave the defense a wildcat look by lining up in the shotgun, then faked to running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and fired a 73-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green. Redskins DBs DeAngelo Hall (23) and DeJon Gomes (24) are still wondering what happened. You can watch the video here.

On his second attempt, Sanu was flanked wide left. He caught a lateral pass from Andy Dalton and completed a perfect cross-field throw to running back Giovani Bernard down the right sideline. The play set up his own 6-yard TD grab that put the Bengals ahead to stay against the Browns. You can watch that video here.

On attempt No. 3, Sanu again lined up left (though not as wide), took an end-around pitch from Dalton and hit Tate in stride along the right sideline. Another QB-quality heave. You can watch that video here.

(Sorry for the commercials. The NFL must need the dough for its defense fund.)

People would probably be more excited about this — well, some people would probably be more excited about this — if Sanu weren’t following so closely on the heels of Randle El, the gold standard among Throwing Receivers. Randle El, you may recall, was a dual-threat quarterback for Cam Cameron at Indiana. If you look at his NFL passing stats (27 attempts, etc.) they’re kind of what a QB might put up in a game — a really, really good game. Indeed, only three times since 1960 has a quarterback had that good a game: at least 6 TD passes and a rating of 156.1.


Date Quarterback, Team Opponent Att Comp Yds TD Int Rating
9-28-03 Peyton Manning, Colts Saints 25 20 314 6 0 158.3
10-21-07 Tom Brady, Patriots Dolphins 25 21 354 6 0 158.3
11-3-13 Nick Foles, Eagles Raiders 28 22 406 7 0 158.3
Career Antwaan Randle El, Steelers/Redskins All 27 22 323 6 0 156.1

That’s how terrific a passer Randle El was. But let’s not forget: For Sanu, the future is not written.

Someday he might even catch a touchdown pass and throw one in the same game. (He came close Sunday with his 76-yard scoring reception and 50-yard completion.) The last 10 receivers to accomplish the feat (which takes us back to 1983):


Date Wideout, Team Opponent TD catch (Yds, QB) TD pass (Yds, Receiver)
11-11-12 Golden Tate, Seahawks Jets 38 from Russell Wilson 23 to Sidney Rice
11-30-08 Mark Clayton, Ravens Bengals 70 from Joe Flacco 32 to Derrick Mason
12-18-04 Antwaan Randle El, Steelers Giants 35 from Roethlisberger 10 to Vernon Haynes
11-9-03 Rod Gardner, Redskins Seahawks 14 from Patrick Ramsey 10 to Trung Canidate
10-06-02 Kevin Lockett, Redskins Titans 23 from Patrick Ramsey 14 to Stephen Davis
10-21-01 David Patten, Patriots Colts 91 from Tom Brady 60 to Troy Brown
10-7-01 Marty Booker, Bears Falcons 63 from Jim Miller 34 to Marcus Robinson
11-13-88 Louis Lipps, Steelers Eagles 89 from Bubby Brister 13 to Merrill Hoge
10-30-83 Harold Carmichael, Eagles Colts 6 from Ron Jaworski 45 to Mike Quick
10-9-83 Mark Clayton, Dolphins Bills 14 from Dan Marino 48 to Mark Duper