Despite establishing a foundation that could yield the best season of his career, wide receiver Brandin Cooks
isn’t remotely impressed with his performance in his first six games in a Patriots uniform
According to Boston Herald staffer Jeff Howe, Cooks doesn’t think his output has matched the work he has put in.
But considering his midweek dedication, which has thoroughly impressed Tom Brady
, Cooks believes he is close to taking off.
“The amount of work I feel like I put in, in my mindset to never be complacent, in a sense to feel like I can be better at what I’m doing,” Cooks said. “Not necessarily what they’re giving me, but personally what I’m doing, I feel like I can be better, and I will be.”
Cooks has 24 catches for 472 yards (19.7-yard average) and two touchdowns in six games, on pace for 64 receptions, a career-best 1,258 yards and five scores. That would ultimately be the second most receiving yards by a first-year Patriot in team history (Randy Moss
had 1,493 in 2007), and it’d be the franchise’s eighth most productive season ever. Cooks’ yards-per-catch average would be the best ever of the Brady era.
Cooks’ long-range ability has already paid dividends. He leads the NFL with four catches of at least 40 yards, and they’ve all occurred in one-possession games so he has been hitting home runs in crucial circumstances.
He is also tied for the league lead with five 30-yard catches and tied for seventh with seven 20-yard catches. And Cooks has averaged 23.3 yards on his trio of third-down receptions.
The 24-year-old immediately shrugged off the rankings
and his pace for a career season. First, as he noted, it could be better, partly due to a handful of drops. And second, the brunt of his excitement has been geared toward the Patriots’ 4-2 record, which is understandable considering the Saints were 2-4 through six games in each of his three seasons in the Big Easy.
“Not at all, I really don’t think about (stats),” Cooks said. “My thought process is playing the best I can play to help the team win. As long as we’re winning, that’s all that matters.”
Cooks has had at least 85 yards receiving in four of the Patriots’ six games this season, and his best work obviously came against the Texans with five catches, 131 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in the closing seconds.
And with the Falcons on tap tomorrow, the Patriots can thank the Super Bowl LI losers for sparking their interest in Cooks.
As Howe noted, the Falcons exposed the Pats’ lack of offensive speed in the title game.
That issue was among the Patriots’ offseason goals, and they acquired Cooks, Mike Gillislee
and Rex Burkhead
in order to get faster in 2017.
Remember, the Patriots enter this Super Bowl rematch with the NFL's No. 1 offense, but the unit has not been cruising quite as smoothly of late. Brady and Co. have been held to 24 points or fewer in each of the last two weeks, a stretch the team never faced last season as New England was held below 25 points in just three of the 12 games with Brady under center.
While Brady and the passing attack have sputtered just a bit, New England's dormant ground game is showing signs of life.
Both Gillislee (despite his fumble against the Jets) and Dion Lewis
have been far more productive the last two weeks. New England's budding balance faces a Falcons defense that's been solid against both the run and the pass for the most part this season.
Still, look for coordinator Josh McDaniels to come out firing through the air to get things rolling Sunday night.
The weapons in the passing game, most notably tight end Rob Gronkowski
, remain generally healthy and ready to spread the field.
It will be interesting, though, to see if the addition of Cooks helps balance out the advantage the Falcons had in terms of speed in this matchup last February, when Gronkowski (on IR with a back injury) wasn't a part of the equation for the Patriots.
Assuming Brady gets the improved protection he saw last Sunday in New York against a tougher pass rush, he'll be looking to hit more short and intermediate throws against the Falcons' speedy, aggressive defense.