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40 and up: Patriots wideout Brandin Cooks takes NFL lead

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Brandin Cooks is up to six catches 40-plus yards – the highest total in the league this season.

Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Brandin Cooks entered Sunday tied for second in the NFL in catches of 40 yards or more.

With four, the New England Patriots wideout sat next to the Cincinnati Bengals’ A.J. Green and the New Orleans Saints’ Ted Ginn Jr. With a fifth, he’d jump into the company of the San Francisco 49ers’ Marquise Goodwin, the Indianapolis Colts’ T.Y. Hilton and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown.

Cooks did himself one better in Mexico City.

He now finds himself in the company of his own with six grabs of 40-plus.

On a first-and-10 in the second quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Estadio Azteca, Cooks sprinted through the coverage of cornerback T.J. Carrie and safety Reggie Nelson to come down with a 52-yard drop in the bucket from quarterback Tom Brady.

Then, on a first-and-10 in the third, Cooks followed that up with a 64-yard touchdown, using an outside stem to take advantage of rookie Obi Melifonwu’s back-to-the-sideline stance and Nelson’s single-high look in the middle of the field.

Out, up, and gone.

“Josh [McDaniels] made a great call,” Brady said in his postgame press conference of the Cooks TD, via Patriots.com. “It’s a play we’ve run before. Cookie had a tight split and he fakes the out, runs the out-go. The guy jumped it, and he was pretty wide open. So, I was just trying not to blow it. If I’d have missed that one, that would have sucked. But he caught it in stride, and it’s tough to catch him from behind when he gets behind the defense.”

The second strike hit the books as the Patriots’ longest offensive touchdown of the season. It also hit the books as the team’s final touchdown in what was a 33-8 win over Oakland. And for the 24-year-old Cooks, it tied his career-high set in receptions north of 40 set last season in New Orleans, when he also happened to match the NFL’s lead.

CATCHES OF 40-PLUS IN 2017

  • Week 1: 54 yards
  • Week 3: 42, 44 yards
  • Week 6: 42 yards
  • Week 11: 52, 64 yards

Cooks, who finished with six grabs for 149 yards with the TD versus Oakland, got his previous over-40 receptions this season versus the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans and New York Jets.

He has accounted for 66 percent of Brady’s passes of such variety.

Now, a one-trick pony the 5-foot-10, 189-pound Cooks is not. But not many have his greatest trick down the way he does.

CATCHES OF 40-PLUS BY YEAR

  • 2014: two
  • 2015: five
  • 2016: six
  • 2017: six

“Brandin’s been a great player for us all year,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reflected afterwards. “He does what he’s asked to do. He’s always ready to go. He’s got great endurance, stamina, speed. Whether he’s asked to block, run short routes, run deep routes, clear-outs, catch-and-run plays – he’s willing to do whatever he needs to do. He works very hard to do it well, and create the good timing with the quarterback and the other receivers in the passing game. Nobody works harder than Brandin. He’s very unselfish, he’s a great teammate, and we’re very fortunate to have him on our team.”

The home runs are no small part in why the 2014 first-round pick out of Oregon State is averaging 17.5 yards per reception thus far into 2017. They’re no small part in why he’s just 214 yards away from his third 1,000-yard season with six games to go, or fourth in the league in receiving, either.

Cooks has afforded the offense the ability to hit “skip.”

“Any time you make big plays, you can skip 10 plays and hit one big one,” added Brady. “That’s really important. He’s done a great job doing that all year. He had a huge day for us.”