Patriots

Brandin Cooks: 'A lot of respect' for former coach Sean Payton

Brandin Cooks: 'A lot of respect' for former coach Sean Payton

Brandon Cooks walked up to Tom Brady’s locker in a crowded Patriots locker room, telling the quarterback he played a great game. Brady put a firm hand on his new receiver’s shoulder and said “hell of a game. We needed that, Brandin. We needed that.”

For Cooks, the win over the Saints was especially sweet. The 23-year-old spent the first two seasons of his NFL career catching passes from Drew Brees. 

“I thank God for the opportunity,” said Cooks. “This time is special. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

PATRIOTS 36, SAINTS 20

Cooks appears to be a popular guy with his former teammates. Many of them sought out the speedster, exchanging handshakes, hugs and a few words. That included Brees and Head Coach Sean Payton.

“I said hello to him (Payton) before and after the game,” said Cooks. “A lot of respect there. It was good to see him. I wished him the best of luck.”

An NFL Network report from Sunday morning didn’t paint as rosy a picture. It said Cooks was concerned with his role in the Saints offense and that he didn’t think Brees had the arm to utilize him in the best manner possible. It also detailed a difference in opinion about Cooks worth. The receiver thinking he’s an elite player and deserving to be paid as such; the Saints disagreeing. Cooks didn’t want to get into that except to say “don’t believe everything you read.”

Cooks probably would have liked to have a bigger day. He was targeted just 4 times, catching two. One of those balls should have been a touchdown but Tom Brady couldn’t lead him far enough to the inside on a post. Cooks was demonstrative with the ball after but insisted all was well. The smile on his face a good indication he was shooting us straight.

“If you saw (the play), he got hit really hard, so for him to make that throw in the first place was amazing,” said Cooks. “ It’s all part of that game.”

With injuries continuing to mount, Cooks may find his role on in the offense grow even more. Rob Gronkowski went down with what the team is calling a groin injury and didn’t return, Phillip Dorsett left with what appeared to be knee trouble and also remained sidelined. Throw that on top of a hobbling Chris Hogan and the already hurt Danny Amendola (he missed the game with a concussion and a knee), and you can see why Cooks may find the ball more and more. Is he ready for it?

“I think things are progressing,”  he said. “I have to continue to come in here, focus and do whatever is asked of me.”

That's music to his quarterback’s ears.

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Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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