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Revisiting Brandin Cooks’ preseason flashes vs. Patriots

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Brandin Cooks faced his current team twice, only the final score did not count.

NFL: Preseason-New England Patriots at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Brandin Cooks appeared in 42 regular-season games during his time with the New Orleans Saints. But while the 2014 first-round pick out of Oregon State faced 24 teams over that span, he never lined up against the one that ultimately traded for him.

That is, unless you account for the exhibition encounters.

Cooks had two with the New England Patriots.

Sean Payton’s Saints and Bill Belichick’s Patriots held joint practices at the Greenbrier in 2015 before heading down to the Mercedez-Benz Superdome, then the two sides did so on the fields behind Gillette Stadium before heading inside of it in 2016.

Cooks wasn’t easy to overlook in those meetings. New England’s secondary was well aware of the home-run volatility the 5-foot-10, 189-pound wideout presented. Seeing him, though, wasn’t the same as stopping him.

He proved to be as advertised.

“I'm glad we don't have to play him twice a year and he's not in our division,” Belichick said of Cooks following the Patriots’ 26-24 win over the Saints on Aug. 22, 2015. “He's a really good player.”

In that initial matchup, Cooks handled one carry for seven yards and four catches for 117 yards. He had an end-around from quarterback Drew Brees, then an 18-yard gain on a quick slant, followed by another 18-yard gain on a quick slant, and also a 36-yard pickup on a fade pattern. But in between was a 45-yard touchdown out of play-action right down the seam.

It stood prominent. It was a miscommunication in coverage. At the same time, it was also an example of 4.33 speed, sunken hips and a double-move having its way.

“That was my fault,” Patriots free safety Devin McCourty – playing corner on the TD – told reporters in the locker room afterwards. “I have to stay on top of the coverage and help out Duron [Harmon] on that play. I just have to do a better job the next time.”

The next time New England crossed paths with New Orleans, it was in practice leading up to the Aug. 11, 2016 tilt.

“They consistently lead the league in passing, great quarterback, great skill receivers, obviously well coached, a good scheme, so this will be great work for us against these guys,” Belichick previewed in his mid-week press conference. “[Coby] Fleener – a tough guy to cover at tight end, we know that. Plus, they have Cooks. It doesn't get much better than him.”

Cooks wasn’t as prolific in the second go-round. With it being the preseason opener in Foxborough, he wasn’t on the field as long, either. Yet on the heels of 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 battles with starting cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan, as well as centerfielders McCourty and Harmon, Cooks was out there long enough to remind the Patriots of his presence.

All it took was the Saints’ first snap from scrimmage.

That’d be Cooks’ lone reception of the night. It went for 37 yards versus nickelback Justin Coleman. No. 10 departed to the sideline shortly thereafter, and the Saints went on to fall by a score of 34-22 in a game of little significance.

Or, so it seemed.

The last two summers are in the rearview now, as is Cooks’ stay in New Orleans after consecutive 1,100-yard campaigns. No longer do the Patriots have to be cautionary of his ability to do sudden damage in practice or in the preseason. But those impressions left by Cooks were not lost on the organization.

The same could be said of the impressions the organization left on Cooks leading up to his acquisition in exchange for first- and third-round picks on March 11.

“Every time I went against them, you can just see why it's a first-class organization,” the 23-year-old said in his introductory Patriots conference call four days later. “From the way that they run things, the way that they coach their players, the way that they walked and talked, my impression was very high for that organization and you see why they are who they are. It's just a dream come true and a blessing to be able to have this opportunity now to play for them.”

Cooks and the Patriots will revisit the Saints for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff on Sept. 17. The final score will matter this time.