Mike Giardi

Cooks shines on his biggest stage yet

cooks_patriots_12218.jpg

Cooks shines on his biggest stage yet

FOXBORO -- You’ve always wanted something more from Brandin Cooks. I mean, 65 catches for almost 11-hundred yards is nothing to turn your nose up at yet we have.  But there’s something very un-Patriot like about his style.

We’ve grown accustom to seeing smaller receivers who fight for every inch, from Troy Brown to Wes Welker to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. They would scrap and claw to get that extra yard, sometimes risking their own health. Cooks isn’t that guy, despite a similar build of the aforementioned players. He’s a willing blocker, but as a runner will go out of his way to avoid contact. I wouldn’t say that changed in Sunday’s AFC Championship game. He’s still not running slants or crossing routes with any regularity or success, but the 23-year-old wide receiver shined his brightest in his biggest moment and is now headed to the Super Bowl.

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“It’ s a blessing,” he said pausing briefly before repeating “It’s a blessing.”

Cooks himself helped kick start a sluggish Patriots offense late in the second quarter with his team trailing 14-3. Almost nothing had gone right for the Pats since putting up a field goal on the game’s opening drive. With 1:28 on the clock, Tom Brady threw a pretty pass to Rob Gronkowski running down the seam. He appeared to make the catch for a brief moment before safety Barry Church knocked both the ball from Gronk’s hands and Gronk from the game. Church was flagged for unnecessary roughness, putting the ball on Jacksonville’s 40 yard line. But with Gronk staggering toward the sideline, you couldn’t help but feel a slight air of “oh bleep” in the air. Enter Cooks. 

Jags cornerback A.J. Bouye appeared as if he was going to get up in Cooks’ face before backing away just prior to the snap, surrendering some 8 or 9 yards off the line of scrimmage. But with that elite speed, Cooks got on top of Bouye quickly, forcing some contact. Instead of whimpering through the physicality, Cooks pushed back and pushed forward, again causing Bouye to use his hands. This time though the ball was already in the air and out came the penalty flags. A 32-yard pass interference call had the Pats sitting pretty at the Jags 13. Brady went back to Cooks on the very next play, picking up 12 more yards before James White crashed into the end zone for a touchdown. We had ourselves a game again, 

“You just gotta keep fighting {in those moments} because you can never put it into the hands of hoping you’re going to get a PI {pass interference},” said Cooks. “You just want to fight an make sure you get the ball or no one does.”

After his flawless first half, Cooks let one slip through his hands just as it appeared the Pats were poised to answer a Jacksonville field goal with points of their own. Instead, isolated one-on-one with a linebacker, the lithe wideout couldn’t reel in a potential big gainer and the Pats drive stalled. As the game wore on, you couldn’t help but circle back to that drop and wonder if that was an ominous sign. 

“Obviously you want to make every catch,” said Cooks of the play. “I didn’t but had to keep playing. I hoped I’d work to get another chance….Tom trusts me to put the ball in my area and let me make a play.”

It came to start the Pats’ second touchdown drive of the game, this one not beginning until 12:03 remaining on the game clock. Cooks’ speed forced Bouye to overreact, turning his hips and committing to a deep route. Instead, Cooks’ slapped on the brakes and hauled in an 18-yarder, giving him the first 100-yard receiving game of his brief playoff career. 

“That doesn’t mean anything,” said Cooks. “Winning is everything.”

Cooks didn’t make any more catches the remainder of the game, but his speed influenced the Jags to switch Bouye off him and put Pro Bowler Jalen Ramsey on. Cooks got Ramsey too, drawing a 36-yard pass interference call later in the 4th. It didn’t lead to points but did help flip the field which eventually did lead the game-winning touchdown.

“It’s football,” he said. “We knew it’s not going to be easy. You’re talking about a great team, one of the best defenses. We knew it was gonna be hard. We knew we had to play 60 minutes of football. Not get too high. Not get too low. Just play till the clock says 0:00.”

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The Patriots' only healthy QB offers little insight on Brady injury

The Patriots' only healthy QB offers little insight on Brady injury

FOXBORO -- Brian Hoyer did his best Sgt, Schultz impression Thursday afternoon.

He saw nothing, he knows nothing and, had we asked him, Hoyer probably would have denied even Tom Brady’s existence. The Patriots backup quarterback has been thrust into the spotlight because of the right-hand injury Brady suffered in practice Wednesday. Though Brady appeared at the media access portion of today’s session, the team listed him on the injury report as not having participated. That would mean Hoyer -  as the team’s only healthy signal caller - had to get more reps than usual, right? 

“Define what is usual,” he said. “Since I’ve been here there’s been days where I’ve taken a lot of reps and days where I’ve taken any. I just do what’s asked of me.”

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So, you were asked to do more today?

“You’ll have to check the injury report. I don’t know if they put that on there or not.”

Okay then. This was just the beginning of a question-and-answer session that provided many of the former and almost none of the latter. Hoyer said he “wasn’t there” when the injury happened. When asked if Brady threw any passes today, the normally genial Hoyer paused before saying tersely, “you have to ask somebody else that question. I’m not going to answer that question.”

There were also a couple of “I’m not going to speak for him” or “you have to ask him” responses. Not unexpected given the nature of the queries but also handled better by every player we spoke to today, from Trey Flowers saying he’s not a hand doctor to James White joking the world will never know how Brady was injured to Kyle Van Noy saying of Brady: “He always looks good. He’s handsome”.

What Hoyer did have a good handle on was what he needs to do to be ready if his number does get called Sunday in the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.  

“I prepare every week like I’m going to play,” he said. “Whether I do or don’t...that’s not really up to me. I did the one thing I can benefit from since I was the backup here - I played a lot of football. I’ve been a starter for three different teams. I know how to prepare as a starter. Whether I’m given those reps or not, each rep I’m not getting I take as a mental rep. I stand back there and I go through and I try to think who I’d go to, who would I’d make the Mike [middle linebacker] on this play. Whether I’m getting the reps or not I’m always preparing to play because you never know when your name is going to be called.”

The Patriots hope it doesn’t come to that. Hell, maybe even Hoyer hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“If I don’t play, that’s good for our team.”

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Jags coach jokes: Brady could 'probably throw left-handed'

Jags coach jokes: Brady could 'probably throw left-handed'

FOXBORO - Who knows if Tom Brady’s injured right hand is cause for concern? The quarterback reportedly injured himself on a botched handoff at practice Wednesday and was got X-rays to determine if there was a break. A source close to Brady said the 40-year old “should be ok,” but that’s hardly definitive. 

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This morning, the news was presented to Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone. He’s no dummy. 

“I’m sure he could probably throw left-handed if he has a problem with his right hand and throw just as well,” he said.  Marrone's Jags face the Patriots Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. 

Brady has missed a fair share of practices this year and been limited for a number of others. That hasn’t prevented the Pats QB from being the odds-on-favorite to win the NFL’s MVP. Patriot players didn’t notice difference yesterday, and if they did, they sure as heck weren’t sharing.

“He looked good, like he always does,” said Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

Eric Rowe added, “Shoot, I don’t know. He looked like Tom. He was doing the same stuff he always does.”

Brady is coming off a 35-of-53 for 337 yards and three-touchdown performance in the Divisional Round playoff game vs. Tennessee. 

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