Howe: Brandin Cooks is becoming a gateway to points for Patriots


Brandin Cooks digs the long ball.

When Cooks goes deep, as he did twice Sunday when the Patriots toppled the Raiders at Estadio Azteca, the blazer has a unique way of finding the end zone, either directly or indirectly. None of Tom Brady’s targets have been as effective at producing points this season, and Cooks has a chance to be the most prolific big-play wideout of the Brady era.

Cooks hauled in a 64-yard touchdown pass against the Raiders, which remarkably was only the fifth-longest touchdown of his career, and he added a 52-yard reception as part of his season-best 149-yard performance. The 52-yarder sparked the second-quarter drive that culminated with Danny Amendola’s scoring grab.

That was merely a continuation of a long-running theme this season. Brady and Cooks have connected for 19 passes of at least 17 yards. Of those 17 drives (two of which involved a pair of the extended connections), the Patriots have scored 13 touchdowns and four field goals. So every time Brady and Cooks hook up for a big play, the Pats turn it into points.

Cooks’ impact extends beyond that, too. He has a team-high 12 catches of at least 20 yards this season, which is two more than tight end Rob Gronkowski. Amazingly, Gronk led the Patriots in 20-yard receptions in each of his first seven seasons, including a career-high 22 in both 2011 and 2015. During the Gronk tenure, Wes Welker (21 catches of at least 20 yards in 2011) is the only wide receiver to have more than a dozen such gains in a single season.

Welker’s big-play production in 2011 set the bar among Brady’s wide receivers. Randy Moss (18 catches of at least 20 yards in 2007 and 2009), David Patten (15 in 2004), Deion Branch (13 in 2005) and David Givens (13 in 2004) are the only wideouts with more plays of at least 20 yards than Cooks’ current campaign. Cooks is on pace for 17 such grabs this season, so he has a remote chance of catching Welker’s remarkable 2011 season.

Spin it a step further, though. Moss (2007) was the only aforementioned receiver who had that long-ball chemistry with Brady in his first season with the Patriots. Cooks’ learning curve and progression should obviously improve.

The 24-year-old’s speed is clearly the primary reason for his big-play proficiency, as he showed when he simply ran past both cornerback TJ Carrie and safety Reggie Nelson for the 52-yard reception.

Speed isn’t the only factor, though, or Olympic sprinters would get more tryouts in the NFL. Cooks…



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