Anderson: Patriots, fans finally meet the real Brandin Cooks

Ty Anderson
September 25, 2017 - 5:02 am

David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

FOXBORO -- Wide receiver Brandin Cooks began his afternoon like 15 of his Patriots teammates: with his knee on the Gillette Stadium turf in a form of silent protest.

But when it mattered most -- with 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Patriots trailing by five points -- Cooks was instead found standing. In the endzone with a Brady-thrown ball in his hands, too, as the necessary closer to the game’s final and most important scoring play in a 36-33 Patriots comeback win over the Texans.

It was between those polarizing moments, with a team-best 131 yards and two touchdowns, that we finally learned what the 24-year-old Cooks can mean to this team.

Just look at the game-winning drive: Even before his last-second touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion, the 5-foot-10 Cooks got everything started with a 19-yard catch that seemingly helped propel the must-score drive. But when that was called back due to an offensive holding, Cooks made up for it three plays later with an 18-yard gainer off a no-huddle pass from Tom Brady. Then, of course, two plays after that, came the touchdown, and in a matter of eight plays and 2:01, Cooks and his ridiculous speed and hands changed the end result with two catches for 43 yards.

“I saw Tom release the ball and Cooks open. I was like, ‘Please have this complete for a touchdown’. I was like, ‘I see Cooks wide open,’ and it was a great throw,” Rob Gronkowski recalled. “It was just awesome to see Cooks tap his toes.”

“I’m just doing what I can to help the team win,” Cooks, who would’ve been walking on air had it not been for the need for his self-admitted ‘small feet’ to touch the turf on the game-winning score, said after the win in an attempt to remain modest.

“He’s got good speed. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when asked about Cooks’ borderline unparalleled speed. “He’s good on catch-and-runs and he can run by defenders. I mean, we’ve seen him do that all year.”

But Belichick praise aside (and at the risk of earning a tonguelashing for my talent evaluation skills), to say that Cooks’ first two games with the Patriots left something to be desired would be you being kind to him. He reeled in just three of his seven targets, and gained 54 of his 88 total yards on one catch in his Patriots debut, a 42-27 Week 1 loss to the Chiefs. Cooks then failed to burn his former team, totaling just two catches for 37 yards in a 36-20 win over the Saints in which Brady threw for over 440 yards.

In fact, through two games, his five receptions and 125 total yards meant that Cooks had direct involvement in just 10.9 percent of Brady’s completions, and 17.5 percent of his total passing yards. This paled in comparison to his impact with Drew Brees as his quarterback a year ago, where Cooks was involved in 16.6 percent of Brees’ overall completions (78 of his 471 completions were to Cooks), and 22.5 percent of his total passing yards (Cooks finished the year with a career-best 1,173 receiving yards).

Keep in mind, too, that those New Orleans numbers came with Cooks not exactly thrilled with his role. And also note that the Pats had no reason to go short on attempts to Cooks, as they’ve been without Julian Edelman since August, and with guys like Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, and Gronkowski already battling various injuries.

Now, it was obviously too early to worry that Cooks -- who looking back on it arrived with ridiculous expectations -- was just Chad Ochocinco with a different name and number. But it was clear that this was not the instant connection that Brady had with Randy Moss in 2007. It wasn’t even the chemistry Brady had with Chris Hogan last season.

And this seemingly had the potential to get ugly. As ugly as spending a first-round draft pick on a bit player could be. As ugly as watching then-fellow offseason bust Dwayne Allen try to catch a football has been, and as ugly as a 1-2 start for the Pats, a team once legitimately considered capable of going 19-0 this year, could have been, anyway.

Yet, those concerns seem like nothing but hyperbolic shenanigans now, as the fix was found through a commitment to making it work (from both Brady and Cooks), and No. 14’s refusal to quit, which showed up on more than one occasion on Sunday.

“[Cooks] works really hard,” Hogan said when asked about Cooks’ impact in the win. “He works really hard at his craft. He studies and prepares really well. I think that’s why he comes out here with a lot of confidence and we have a lot of confidence in him.”

“You just have to have that confidence,” Cooks said of the poise on the team’s final drive. “There was a lot of time, keep poised and play our game. If each person did their job the best they could we’d be fine. That’s what my thoughts were.”

But Brady, of course, had to also have that confidence in Cooks, which he did.

“They were playing a two-high defense and we got Cookie behind the corner,” Brady said, describing the play that included him looking off two sure targets for Cooks. “It was close, and then they reviewed it. I'm glad we got the two-point play. It was a great win.”

“It was a perfect throw with perfect timing, and I expected nothing less from Tom,” Cooks, who has won the wide receiver lottery going from Brees to Brady, said.

But now, after a concerning statistical start was vanquished by the Cooks-led charge to avoid a 1-2 start, Brady and the Pats finally know what to expect from their star pickup.

And better yet, where to find his endzone-tapping feet when the game’s on the line.