Hannable: Time to give Brandin Cooks some love

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Photo credit Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

FOXBORO — Although Brandin Cooks put up over 1,000 yards receiving in his first year in New England, he still saw his fair share of criticism — this reporter included.

But, following Sunday’s AFC title game, the 24-year-old is deserving of a lot of credit, as that was his best game of the season and it came at the best of times.

Cooks led the Patriots in receiving with six catches for 100 yards and his impact went even further than that, as he drew 68 yards in penalties. On the Patriots’ last possession of the first half he drew a 32-yard pass interference penalty to set up the Patriots’ first touchdown and then a 36-yard pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter, which helped flip the field.

It wasn’t just in the AFC championship game where this happened, either. According to NFL Research, he drew 141 penalty yards in the regular season, which were the fourth-most in the NFL.

“Brandin made a bunch of big plays today and he was huge for us,” Tom Brady said after the game. “We’ve talked a lot and I have a lot of confidence and trust in him. He’s an incredible player. And, that was big to get that one before the half. We needed that because we needed a spark and we needed to come into halftime with something to kind of get us going for the second half. That was a huge drive.”

One of Cooks’ biggest issues this season has been his inability to contribute other than catching deep passes. He's had some trouble with comeback routes and hasn’t ran many routes over the middle of the field. But against Jacksonville and the No. 1 ranked pass defense, he stepped up his game.

With Rob Gronkowski suffering a head injury in the first half, a lot more went onto Cooks’ plate and he came through in the second half. He was fighting for balls like we haven’t seen all year and helping Brady out by catching passes outside he numbers, all while going up against one of the best cornerbacks in the league in A.J. Bouye.

At the beginning of the season there may have been unrealistic expectations set for Cooks. Many expected him to be the No. 1 receiver with Julian Edelman out for the year, and while he has been that, he hasn’t done some things some expected.

There was a notion Cooks could run routes out of the slot, likely because of his size, but that just isn’t part of his game. It was unfair to assume he could do that just because of his height. He isn’t Edelman after all. If he produced like he did with Edelman in the lineup, everyone would have referred to it as arguably the best first season by a receiver working with Brady, besides Randy Moss, but because Edelman wasn't on the field, some tried to compare the two.

This was an unfair comparison and therefore contributed to the narrative surrounding Cooks.

New England added Cooks with the expectation he would be playing with Edelman, not depending on him to carry the entire offense by himself.

Has Cooks had some issues with route running and getting on the same page as Brady? Yes. Has he had a few bad drops over the course of the year? Sure. But, all things considered Cooks has had a very good year and deserves much more praise than he’s been given.

This reporter included.