FOXBORO -- This isn't a grudge match for Brandin Cooks. It's not about revenge. But when the Patriots travel to play the Saints on Sunday it won't be just another game, either, even if that's what Cooks might have you believe.
"It's just another away game," he said on Wednesday. "That's the way I look at it. Absolutely."
What gave it away, the fact that there might be a little more to it than that? Cooks' reaction was telling when he was asked what kind of reception he might get in New Orleans on Sunday.
"I feel like we left off on a great note," Cooks said. "I love the fans. But, hey, I don't know. It's an away game so you're expecting what away fans are going to give you, right?"
Statistically, it's hard to have a marriage work out any better than the one Cooks had with the Saints. Only three players in each of the last two years recorded 1,000 yards, 75 catches and eight touchdowns: Cooks, Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.
Cooks made headlines in December for a comment he made after seeing no targets in a game when the Saints bludgeoned the Rams, saying "closed mouths don't get fed." But any discord that may have existed in that moment have been wiped away with time, it seems.
Earlier in the day on Wednesday, Saints coach Sean Payton sang Cooks' praises as a good teammate and hard worker. Drew Brees acknowledged that he and Cooks are still good friends.
The feelings, Cooks said, are mutual.
"That's my guy right there," Cooks said of Brees. "That's family."
On Payton, Cooks added, "I've got a ton of respect for Coach Payton still, leaving off on a great note. I love him. He's a great coach and he did me well when I was there so there's no bad blood at all . . ."
"I loved every bit of playing there. They gave me an opportunity. First team coming into the NFL. Gotta respect that, respect the owners, [general manager] Mickey [Loomis], Sean for believing in me. There's a lot of great memories made."
Cooks is now trying to make a few early memories of his own in New England. He had a strong camp and performed well in the season-opener, reeling in three passes for 88 yards against the Chiefs. He also forced Kansas City defensive backs into a handful of penalties by using his speed to get by them.
Off the field the accliimation process is moving along, too. The 23-year-old from Oregon is already a fan of Boston's North End, and he recently stopped by Harvard's campus in Cambridge.
"The history . . . it's a special place," he said of his new home. "I'm across the country from where I grew up so it's neat to be able to get to know another place rather than where I grew up at."
Cooks knew New Orleans. He knew the food. He knew the people. (Especially the ones he'll share the field with Sunday.) While he doesn't know how he'll be received when he goes back, Brees thinks he has an idea.
"People liked him, respected him, he was a big part of our team and offense," Brees said. "Nothing but love and respect for him."
What gave it away, the fact that Cooks might care more than he lets on about his return to the Superdome? Once he heard what Brees had to say, the smile on his face was telling.
"If Drew says it's going to be a good reception, it'll be one," Cooks said. "That's the king over there."