Saints' Cooks lives up to hype in debut

ATLANTA -- It seemed impossible that New Orleans Saints rookie receiver Brandin Cooks could live up to the lofty hype that surrounded him heading into his NFL debut.

And he didn't. He exceeded it.

The Saints' dynamic new weapon did a little bit of everything -- at least during the first half -- of New Orleans' 37-34 overtime loss at the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Cooks finished with seven catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, plus one run for 18 yards and two forced penalties against the defense for holding or interference.

However, Cooks was the first to point out that it felt a little hollow.

"To be honest, I had an all right day. But at the end of the day you want the win," Cooks said. "I would rather have zero catches with a 'W' than what I did."

Cooks was especially down after he had only one catch for nine yards in the second half. And quarterback Drew Brees threw just slightly behind Cooks in the end zone for a costly interception in the third quarter.

“That’s the one that really bugs me,” Brees said after the game. “If I put that thing one more foot in front of Cooks, it’s a touchdown.”

However, Brees has to be feeling very good about the possibilities with his new weapon -- who is as diverse as he is dynamic.

The Saints found about a half-dozen different ways to put the ball in Cooks' hands -- continuing the trend we saw in training camp. He caught a deep ball in traffic for 32 yards on the second play of the game. He later had the end-around run, a screen pass and a slant, showing off his combination of blazing speed, impressive hands and toughness.

As advertised, the 5-foot-10, 189-pounder gives the Saints yet another unique matchup problem that coach Sean Payton and Brees can exploit.

“He looked sharp,” Payton said. “I thought he made some good plays in space, hung onto the football. And the thing with him is he’s prepared. And it's nothing we haven’t seen and that you (in the media) have seen in practice. He looked very comfortable.”

Because the Saints spread the ball around so much to so many different weapons, it’s hard to predict whether Cooks can put up similar numbers on a weekly basis.

But he is obviously a big play waiting to happen. And he is more than ready to burn defenses when they pay too much attention to tight end Jimmy Graham or receiver Marques Colston or the run game.

“Guys were doubling Jimmy, Colston. The run game was (working),” Cooks said. “In an offense like this, someone’s gonna be open.”