Cooks says he's not sure what to expect from fans in return to New Orleans


Cooks says he's not sure what to expect from fans in return to New Orleans

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."

'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

Rob Gronkowski, decked out in his finest St. Patrick's Day duds over the weekend in Nashville, reportedly tried to shed some light on his NFL future.

Of course, while Gronk was doing Gronk things, he told a Patriots fan one thing and a reporter another.

Breech is an NFL writer for His father is former Cincinnati Bengals kicker Jim Breech. And the "69ers" aren't a real team.


AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

The Patriots' "direction" never really changes. They're always "going for it" because they're always one of the best teams in the league. 

The rest of the AFC East is usually in flux. The other teams range from hoping for 8-8 to trying to bottom out in hopes of a high draft pick. Yet right now, it seems the stars are aligning and that the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all have the mindset: Change things now and be ready to pounce once Brady is gone. 

The Jets traded up to No. 3 on Saturday, assuring themselves a chance at one of this draft's top quarterbacks. The Bills, with picks Nos. 12 and 22, are expected by pundits to make a similar move up. The Dolphins, fresh off cutting bait with Ndamukong Suh in an attempt at a culture change, have the 11th pick and could use it on a quarterback to either push or replace Ryan Tannehill. 

None of the three teams are close to pushing the Patriots as long as Brady's around, even with the Bills coming off a season in which they reached the playoffs. Yet there's a two-or-three-year plan on which all three teams could have designs: Get the quarterback now, build around him and be in a good situation by the time Brady is done. 

We've seen these teams try to rebuild before during the Brady Era, with only limited success. Mark Sanchez worked out better in New York than anyone could have initially expected, but that success lasted way shorter than any believers could have hoped. Now, it seems they try again. 

Over in Buffalo, the end of the Tyrod Taylor era hardly means the beginning of the Nathan Peterman era. Those two first-rounders should easily be able to get the Bills into the top five, and they've also got two second-rounders and two third-rounders. Hell, they have the pieces to get to No. 1 if Cleveland is bold enough to pass on their choice of Darnold/Rosen/Allen/Mayfield. 

The Dolphins are in the more interesting spot. Tannehill missed all of last season and he's 29. If you're six years into your career and your team still isn't totally sure if you can be one of the better QBs in the league, you probably aren't one of the better QBs in the league. At the very least, Lamar Jackson should be there at No. 11. They could also trade up. 

At the start of last season, the Patriots had far and away the two best QBs in the AFC East. Now, it stands to reason that at least two of their divisional opponents (the Jets and Bills) will come away with what they hope are franchise quarterbacks. And if any of these guys hit, the Pats will have gone from the best QB situation in the NFL to seeing some actual competition waiting for them by the time their own quarterback is done. 

Of course, all three of these teams usually suck at everything, so it shouldn't be a big deal.