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Even with less volume, Brandin Cooks has been anything but quiet for Patriots

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Brandin Cooks stands fifth on the Patriots in receptions, but tied for seventh in the NFL in receiving yards.

New England Patriots v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Two catches for 38 yards.

That was the stat line for Brandin Cooks heading into the second half of Thursday night’s game at Raymond James Stadium.

But the 24-year-old would be targeted twice on the New England Patriots’ next two snaps. He’d make a mark with both.

The first brought along a catch-and-run of 17 yards out of a smoke screen as Cooks stuttered cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III up the left sideline before being pushed out by safety Chris Conte.

The second brought 34 more yards as Cooks ran a deep-over route from one boundary to another, changing speeds and swerving behind the trailing defensive backs to track down the football before another Tampa Bay Buccaneers DB could from overhead.

Both looked easy. Both came with the respect of well-cushioned coverage. And both made you wonder why, if Brady and Cooks could connect for 51 yards in a span of two plays, had the latter been thrown to only three times to that point in what was a 13-7 contest?

Perhaps it was the pass rush disrupting Brady’s operation in the pocket. Perhaps it was the previous misconnections on short, underneath throws, which included a drop from No. 14.

But it goes to show that it only takes a couple hits to make up for the misses.

Cooks went on to be the intended recipient of an additional three passes by the time New England had secured a 19-14 win. Two of those attempts fell incomplete and the other hit the books as a loss of two yards. Yet his purpose was clear in that initial drive of the third quarter, even if the Patriots were forced to settle for a 45-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal by the end of it.

Not many can take a first-and-10 screen well past the sticks and follow it up seconds later with an over-the-shoulder grab on a meandering deep cross into a trio of red jerseys. The fact Cooks can makes him a steady variable, even on the days in which the 5-foot-10, 189-pounder isn’t steadily touching the football.

TARGETED ROUTES VS. BUCCANEERS

  • Screen: 2-for-2, 15 yards
  • Deep over: 1-for-1, 34 yards
  • Comeback: 1-for-1, 19 yards
  • Dig: 1-for-1, 17 yards
  • Slant: 0-for-2, drop
  • Curl: 0-for-1
  • Drag: 0-for-1

That was the case last Thursday, when the 2014 first-round pick by way of Oregon State and the New Orleans Saints finished with five grabs for 85 yards. It wasn’t ho-hum, nor was it off the charts. It was more of what Cooks has done.

Cooks accounted for 15 catches of 20-plus yards during his third and final season in New Orleans. He also had six catches of 40-plus yards, including an NFL-long 98-yard touchdown. He averaged 15 yards per reception, 73 per game, and capped off the season with a total of 1,173.

His early returns in New England are in the same ballpark. Through five games, Cooks stands with 379 yards and touchdowns of 42 and 25 yards. He’s locked with Pierre Garcon for seventh in the league in yardage, is tied for third with six receptions of over 20 yards, and is alongside A.J. Green and T.Y. Hilton for tops with three of 40-plus.

A clip of 21 yards per reception will do that.

LEADERS IN RECEIVING YARDS

  • Antonio Brown: 545 on 40
  • A.J. Green: 504 on 32
  • T.Y. Hilton: 466 on 24
  • Keenan Allen: 401 on 28
  • Stefon Diggs: 395 on 23
  • Zach Ertz: 387 on 32
  • Brandin Cooks: 379 on 18
  • Pierre Garcon: 379 on 28

Cooks has caught no more than five passes in a single game thus far into 2017. He’s got 18 in all, which sits fifth on the Patriots alone.

But while he is currently on pace for just 57 catches by the end of the 16-game slate, he’s also slated for a career-best 1,212-yard year. And if that were to hold true into January, he’d be just the fifth player at any position since the merger to tally 60 catches or fewer and 1,200 yards or more in one season, according to Pro Football Reference.

In a passing attack built on its distribution – whether it’s fullback James Develin lining up outside the numbers, halfbacks James White or Dion Lewis trickling out of the backfield, or the likes of Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski marching down the seams and beyond them – that’s saying something.

Cooks has been what the Patriots sent pick No. 32 overall to New Orleans for.

It doesn’t take too many catches to see it.