Patriots look to Mohamed Sanu to help replace Josh Gordon

FOXBORO — This is how breezy Mohamed Sanu's first day was as a Patriot.

Early Wednesday afternoon, Bill Belichick cracked a joke at his own expense saying he knows Sanu well because of where he went to college, a nod to the fact Belichick has acquired a high number from that program.

“Yeah, we saw everybody at Rutgers,” Belichick said.

Minutes later, the Pats conducted their first practice of the week — a casual walkthrough in street clothes. Two hours after that, Tom Brady stopped at Sanu's locker before leaving to say they'd be speaking soon. And then it was Sanu's turn to walk out the door, well before the clock struck 3:30.

The Patriots can only hope the rest of his career goes so smoothly.

“He's a very experienced receiver. He's had a lot of production,” Belichick said of Sanu. “We're excited to have him, and we'll see how it goes.”

Excited and thankful, considering the team effectively sent Josh Gordon out the door hours after Sanu came in by placing Gordon on injured reserve with bone bruises on his left knee. His roster spot will go to someone else, but Gordon's production is Sanu's to replace.

According to a source, Gordon believes he can play soon despite the injury, a belief the Patriots do not share. The bone bruises worsened during a play late in the first half of the Pats' win over the Giants in Week 6. After leaving the field, Gordon did not return.

Weeks earlier, he had fluid drained from the same knee. Per reports from the NFL Network, the Patriots intend to move on from Gordon when he's healthy. His season in New England ends at 20 catches for 287 yards and a touchdown.

Accounting for his time missed, Gordon's numbers aren't too far off from Sanu's. The former Falcon caught 33 passes for 313 yards and a score in Atlanta working primarily from the slot. Where he fits in the Patriots offense remains to be determined.

For now, Belichick said, the team is focused on incorporating him into its weekly game plans rather than the entire system, starting with the Pats' plan for Sunday's kickoff against Cleveland.

“It's really what we're doing this week, what the Browns do, what their coverages are, what our game plan is, what our assignments are, what adjustments do we have to make, and so forth,” Belichick said. “You can go back and talk about things that happened earlier in the year. There's a time for that and we certainly have a lot to catch up on.

“But most important thing for a player coming onto the team is the immediate game, the upcoming game. So we'll focus most of our attention there.”

Browns coach Freddie Kitchens has never coached Sanu, but his impression is in line with many across the league. He's strong, physical and dependable. In his seventh season last year, Sanu posted career highs in receptions and receiving yards.

For a 30-year-old wideout, he's still got it.

“I think he's an excellent player,” Kitchens said. “He played in some big games for Atlanta and was very productive for them for a long time. So, it just adds to the weapons that they can use.”

Patriots safety Devin McCourty knows Sanu dating back to their days at Rutgers. He described him Wednesday as tough and hard-working, traits McCourty first noticed a decade ago when the two patrolled the same defensive backfield. Sanu eventually switched to offense, where he thrived for two seasons after McCourty was drafted in 2010.

Since then, Sanu's hard-hitting defensive background has founded a physical pro career that began in Cincinnati in 2012. Between then and now, the Pats tried to lure him away as a free agent in 2016, when he ultimately chose the Falcons. Sanu later caught eight passes for 90 yards in two games against the Patriots, including Super Bowl LI.

“Physical guy,” McCourty said. “Each time we played him, we talked about him being a bigger guy that'll line up in the slot, line up outside.”

What the Patriots need to know is how quickly Sanu can assimilate into the offense. The playbook is notoriously difficult for new receivers to pick up midseason. Developing chemistry with Brady can take years.

No wideout acquired after Week 1, save for Gordon, has thrived right away.

Considering the price the Pats paid for Sanu — a 2020 second-round pick — the front office's belief in him is strong. So is McCourty's.

“One of the hardest working guys I got to be around when he was a young guy at Rutgers, so I'm excited just to see him here,” McCourty said. “And I know he'll do well in this environment because of his work ethic and playing together in college, what we experienced together. Like I said, I'm excited to see him here.”

And that's a good thing. Because the days should only grow harder from here.