Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski get all the headlines, but New England wouldn’t be in position to possibly win back-to-back Super Bowl titles if not for its unheralded and unsung heroes.
Brandin Cooks is at the very top of that list. After consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the Saints where he accumulated 162 catches for 2,311 yards and 17 touchdowns, he was traded to New England and subsequently snagged 65 catches for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns during this past regular season.
That’s the best first year that any wide receiver not named Randy Moss has ever had with Tom Brady.
Tom Brady hasn’t seen many WRs make the type of first-year impact that Brandin Cooks has. “Incredible,” he says. https://t.co/50gLZOptU7
In two playoff games, Cooks has nine catches for 132 yards. His six catches and 100 yards in the AFC Championship Game victory over Jacksonville, especially with Gronk sidelined with a concussion, is a huge reason why the Patriots have advanced to Super Bowl LII.
Cooks doesn’t get the spotlight like Gronk, or even Danny Amendola for that matter, but the New England locker room knows what he means to their success.
“Brandin Cooks has been such an incredible player since he got here,” Brady said this week in the lead-up to the big game. “His attitude, his approach to the game for a young player, his maturity is really what struck me. He’s one of the last guys off the field every single day. He’s always working on his techniques, his catching techniques, his tracking the ball. I mean, it’s just so impressive. What he’s done with his team in this one year is really incredible.
“I haven’t really seen it much from anybody to come in and make the contributions that he’s made. He does it in his own style, too. He’s not trying to mimic anyone. It’s just him. I love playing with the guy. I love his spirit. I love his attitude. I love his will and determination. I love his leadership. Very lucky to play with him. Hopefully, we have many more years together.”
Cooks brings a type of speed to the Patriots’ offensive attack that defenses have to be leery of. His ability to stretch the field makes him a long-ball threat on every play, which opens up the seams and underneath routes for the likes of Gronk and Amendola.
Matthew Slater is another underappreciated yet quintessential cog in Bill Belichick’s Patriot machinery. People often point to stats and numbers, without fully understanding the psychology of a winning locker room.
Slater, provides that leadership and mentorship for younger players, doing the grunt work on special teams to the best of his ability while showing others what hard work and sacrifice are all about. You probably won’t here his name called much during the game, but he’s the heart and soul of New England’s special teams units.
On defense, the name Kyle Van Noy won’t ring any bells for many who live outside of New England, but the linebacker has been a stud this year. In 12 regular season starts, he recorded 73 total tackles with 5 1/2 sacks. He was outstanding in the AFC championship game with nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
New England is much more than Brady, Gronk and Belichick. It’s about time that some of the team’s lesser known players get the shine and credit that they deserve.