AN­OTHER SHOT AT SU­PER BOWL

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY GREG BEACHAM

The Rams’ Brandin Cooks played for the Pa­tri­ots in the last Su­per Bowl, but says he isn’t tak­ing the trade per­son­ally.

AT­LANTA

In the past three NFL sea­sons alone, Brandin Cooks has caught passes from Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Jared Goff while play­ing for Sean Pay­ton, Bill Belichick and Sean McVay.

“I guess I know how to pick ’em, right?” Cooks asked Tues­day with a laugh.

Cooks has racked up 3,786 yards re­ceiv­ing and 21 to­tal touch­downs in that three-sea­son span, which will in­clude six play­off games and two con­sec­u­tive Su­per Bowls.

He played for the Pa­tri­ots in the big game last year, and he will play against them for the Los An­ge­les Rams on Sun­day. He is also the first player in NFL his­tory to have three con­sec­u­tive 1,000-yard re­ceiv­ing sea­sons with three dif­fer­ent teams.

But there are as­ter­isks on this in­cred­i­ble re­sume.

Cooks was only able to ac­com­plish these feats be­cause he was traded be­fore each of the past two sea­sons, chang­ing teams twice be­fore he turned 25 years old.

Two elite NFL fran­chises – New Or­leans and New Eng­land – de­cided they could do without the speedy, de­pend­able re­ceiver, giv­ing him up for first-round picks.

Al­though he has been asked about it al­most daily dur­ing the Rams’ play­off run, Cooks in­sists he har­bors no ill will against the Saints or the Pa­tri­ots.

The Rams’ post­sea­son could have been a per­sonal re­venge tour, but Cooks says it means noth­ing to him that his two for­mer teams are Los An­ge­les’ fi­nal two play­off op­po­nents: The Rams beat New Or­leans 26-23 in the NFC cham­pi­onship game, and they will face the Pa­tri­ots in the Su­per Bowl.

While Cooks claims he didn’t take it per­son­ally, he also ac­knowl­edges us­ing the trades as mo­ti­va­tion dur­ing his fourth con­sec­u­tive 1,000-yard sea­son and the sub­se­quent play­off grind.

“It’s fuel to the fire,” Cooks said. “I know that I can play this game at a high level, whether some­one thinks it or not. For them to trade me, it’s part of the game, but it also gives me that

mo­ti­va­tion to keep go­ing, too.”

This Su­per Bowl is a par­tic­u­lar op­por­tu­nity for Cooks, who re­al­izes how for­tu­nate he is to re­turn to foot­ball’s big­gest stage for a sec­ond straight year. Cooks caught just one pass for the Pa­tri­ots against Philadel­phia last sea­son be­fore he was side­lined with a con­cus­sion, miss­ing most of the big­gest game of his life.

“I would be ly­ing if I said I didn’t think about it like all year, off­sea­son and train­ing camp,” Cooks said. “But now that I’m here, I’ve got that thought process out of my mind.”

Cooks has avoided con­stant at­tempts to get him to com­pare the in­ner work­ings of the Pa­tri­ots and Rams this week, de­lib­er­ately giv­ing sim­plis­tic, short an­swers such as: “They’re both great cul­tures. That’s the sim­i­lar­ity.”

But it’s clear he has found a home in his na­tive Cal­i­for­nia with the Rams, who have lav­ished praise on him ever since his ar­rival. They even signed him to a five-year, $80 mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion be­fore he played a game in LA, and he re­warded them with a ca­reer-best 1,204 yards re­ceiv­ing.

“I can prom­ise you this: We’re not trad­ing him,” McVay said Tues­day.

Cooks has showed his re­cip­ro­cal devo­tion to the Rams in many ways: Just last week, he sur­prised team cus­to­dian Al­fonso Gar­cia by pay­ing for two tick­ets to the Su­per Bowl for Gar­cia and his 8-yearold son.

The Pa­tri­ots have had only good things to say about their for­mer re­ceiver even though Belichick kept him for only one sea­son be­fore mak­ing the trade to max­i­mize his value, rather than sign­ing him to the type of longterm con­tract New Eng­land has of­ten avoided. The Pats used the Rams’ first-round pick on of­fen­sive tackle Isa­iah Wynn, who tore his Achilles ten­don in the pre­sea­son.

Belichick, Brady and other Pa­tri­ots praised Cooks’ work ethic and ta­lent this week.

“He was a great guy to have in the room, a hard­work­ing team­mate, and he’s a real play­maker,” New Eng­land re­ceiver Chris Ho­gan said.

Ho­gan said that al­though he was daz­zled by Cooks’ speed, “when I’d see on film I was even with him or ahead of him, I made sure to point it out.”

Even though he has im­pres­sive num­bers for Los An­ge­les, Cooks is sold on McVay’s cul­ture of in­di­vid­ual sac­ri­fice for team suc­cess. In fact, Cooks is get­ting some of his big­gest praise for a strate­gic drop in New Or­leans.

On a third-down play with the Rams on the edge of long field-goal range in over­time, Goff threw a short back­field pass to Cooks with Saints de­fend­ers bear­ing down.

In­stead of catch­ing it and prob­a­bly tak­ing a 4-yard loss on a play that McVay im­me­di­ately re­gret­ted call­ing, Cooks in­ten­tion­ally dropped it. Shortly af­ter­ward, Greg Zuer­lein made a 57-yard field goal to send the Rams to their first Su­per Bowl in 17 years.

No mat­ter what hap­pens in his sec­ond shot at the Su­per Bowl, Cooks seems cer­tain be a key com­po­nent of Los An­ge­les’ of­fense next sea­son along with Robert Woods and the in­jured Cooper Kupp, who formed one of the most po­tent re­ceiver trios in the league when they were to­gether this sea­son. Cooks is also ea­ger for an­other year to build chem­istry with Goff.

“To be put with a young quar­ter­back that’s the same age as me, and to know you have the chance to be to­gether for a long time, that’s a bless­ing,” Cooks said.

BUTCH DILL AP

Los An­ge­les Rams wide re­ceiver Brandin Cooks (12) is the first player in NFL his­tory to have three con­sec­u­tive 1,000-yard re­ceiv­ing sea­sons with three dif­fer­ent teams. Cooks will ap­pear in his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Su­per Bowl; last year he played for the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots.

GRE­GORY PAYAN AP

A Pa­triot in last year’s Su­per Bowl, Brandin Cooks has caught passes from Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Jared Goff the past three sea­sons.

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