Wide receiver Marvin Jones may take his first snap under Hue Jackson in the Bengals next game.
USA Today maybe be bannering the Bengals as the best team in the NFL. Peter King may be phoning Andy Dalton for Monday Morning Quarterback. Paul Brown Stadium waits for another band of cats when Cam Newton brings the Panthers in here Oct. 12 (1 p.m.) to test Cincinnati's longest home winning streak. And the Bengals go into the bye with a one-game lead in the AFC North.
Yet the always formidable Patriots lurk in Foxboro for Sunday Night Football on Oct. 5 when the New Kid in Town tries to take over the AFC. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson isn't happy he's nearly one yard shy of his per rushing yardage goal of 4.5 yards. Head coach Marvin Lewis wants better leverage in the run defense.
(Jackson knows all about the resiliency of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. The last time he called plays against Belichick as Raiders head coach in 2011, Oakland piled up 504 yards, outgained the Pats by nearly 100 yards, and lost by 12 points.)
Still, the buzz of Monday is still wide receiver Mohamed Sanu's 18-yard touchdown pass to Dalton, where the Bengals dodged disaster in the flat and embraced euphoria in the end zone. A matter of inches and we're talking about how pretty a passer Sanu is instead of how maybe he should have cried, "Uncle" and "Aunt," to avoid a pick six or assault and battery on his quarterback.
But don't tell his teammates that.
Wide receiver Marvin Jones has watched it too many times in practice, where Sanu doesn't even warm up. When he reaches the front of the line to run the play, he asks absently, 'Oh, my turn?' and then proceeds to whip a perfect 60-yarder and drop it on a dime.
The gag is the pressure is on the receivers and not Sanu.
"You've got to protect Mo's passer rating. We're going for history here," said Jones of the 158.3 perfecto Sanu has spun with his four career passes. "I've never seen him throw a bad pass. Don't mess with Mo's passer rating…There are some people born to do stuff like that…Right between two defenders. Maybe it's my turn to catch it."
Wide receivers A.J. Green and Brandon Tate have one each. Running back Giovani Bernard has one. Dalton became the first Bengals quarterback to ever catch a touchdown pass. And Jackson is leering at Jones and his career rushing yards per attempt of 10.2 on 11 carries.
Jones has been pretty much on the shelf since last season, sidelined during the spring with an ankle that nagged into the first week of training camp and for the last six weeks with a broken foot.
But he should be back for the Pats and his first snap under Jackson after catching 10 touchdowns last year.
"He does a lot of creative stuff," Jones said. "I've been used to different stuff, too, like reverses. Who knows?...I'd much rather catch."
That's because Sanu has a patent on the trick play that Jackson is starting to show with enough regularity to make Sam Wyche seem like an arch conservative. The scary thing is Jackson says he hasn't begun to exploit Sanu's abilities.
"There are a lot of things this young man can do,' Jackson said. "He's just very talented. He really is. We have quite a few guys like that and that's the fun part of our offense."
The burst of conversation with quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese during and after the play shows just how dangerous it was. Jackson was so distraught at how the play unfolded he went looking for the next play as Sanu's pass sailed to Dalton.
"(Zampese) goes, 'He's going to score,''' Jackson recalled. "I go, 'No he's not and he said, 'Hue, he's going to score,' and sure enough he scored and I go, 'Yeaah.'"
Don't look for Jackson to go into a shell. Like he says, "I don't hold much. I've never been a guy like that."
"It's a calculated risk. To me, with our players we talk about staying aggressive. I try to give them all opportunities to make plays,' he said. "I think the more versatile we are as an offense, the harder we are to defend. When people know this is where the ball goes, I think people can defend that. But we have several guys that when they touch the ball, a lot of good things can happen."
Sanu is obviously one of those guys, but Jackson doesn't want to turn him into a circus act. He thinks he's a dynamic receiver and notes how he's caught big passes in each of the last two games in the face of an all-out blitz.
"He reminds me of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the contested catch area," Jackson said of the Bengals' third-leading receiver of all time. " T.J. could catch contested balls. I don't care who hit him, bumped him, whatever, and Sanu has some of that in him, which is a good quality to have."
While the Bengals have a bye week, the Patriots go to Kansas City for a Monday Night game. Even though Jackson has two weeks to game plan and Belichick has five days, Jackson says that doesn't give anyone an edge. He knows Belichick has already made some preparations.
"They've seen it all. At least they think they've seen it all," Jackson said. "He's a good coach and he'll be prepared.
"I don't think it gives anybody an advantage one way or the other because everybody has a bye," Jackson said. "Everybody has the chance to rejuvenate and see where they are and who they are and to correct some things. But to give you an advantage, I don't think that's the case."
But with two weeks to prepare, don't look Jackson to tiptoe into Foxboro.
"It's going to happen," he said of a botched trick play. "As long as we get to the next down with the ball, we'll be OK. That's what I really stress to the guys. It's OK to run all this stuff. It's super. But if we turn the ball over, it's a bad thing. But if we can get to the next down where I can make another call to make up for the last one, then we've got a chance."