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John DeShazier: Saints rookie Brandin Cooks looked more than comfortable in NFL debut

He caught seven passes for 77 yards and a TD

Brandin Cooks' debut wasn't record-setting.

That didn't make it any less memorable.

The New Orleans Saints' rookie wide receiver showed, in the Saints' season-opening 37-34 overtime loss to the Falcons in Atlanta, that the promise he exhibited in training camp and the preseason wasn't just overreaction and smoke.

On Sunday, there was an offering of tangible substance, in a regular-season NFL game against an opponent who was a lot more eager to expose him as little more than style and hype.

Cooks caught seven passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, and ran a reverse for 18 yards. But it was just as much the manner in which he was deployed as it was the actual production. The goal to get him in space and to create isolation situations – so he could use his speed, quickness and refined ability to catch the football – looked to be a smashing success.

"I thought he made enough plays," Coach Sean Payton said. "I thought he looked sharp, I thought he made some good plays in space, hung on to the football.

"The thing with him is, he's prepared and it's nothing we haven't seen. He's very comfortable with his spots."

Nothing about Sunday's game – being on the road, in the Georgia Dome, against a division rival; making his true NFL debut; facing a defense that wasn't vanilla; knowing every route and move would be dissected by some who still may wonder about his substance – seemed too "big" for Cooks.

"I feel like I came out there and the coaches and our quarterback put me in a great position to do what I did," Cooks said. "But at the same time, for the overall game, I felt like it went well. It was just one of those things that in one of these games, the last person who has the ball is probably going to end up winning."

Cooks, who tied a Saints rookie record with seven receptions in his opening game, scored his first regular-season touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Drew Brees with 24 seconds left in the first half, giving New Orleans a 20-7 lead.

The two nearly connected on a 14-yard scoring pass in the third quarter, but Brees was intercepted in the end zone by Falcons cornerback Robert McClain.

"If I could put that thing a foot more in front of Cooks, it's a touchdown instead of an interception," Brees said. "It was a good decision, I just didn't put the ball out there far enough and when you have a game like this, it's those plays that make the difference."

Still, Brees said, it's evident the kind of difference-maker Cooks can be.

"He's impressive," Brees said. "He can do a lot of things. He's a very smart player. He's intense, when he's out there, it's business. He can do a lot of things for us.

"We're really excited about him as we go along here, continuing to build packages around him and give him opportunities. Brandin can do some things. He's explosive."

Likewise, Cooks sees where there will be myriad opportunities for him to thrive in the Saints' offense. He was one of four players Sunday with at least five receptions and 58 receiving yards.

"That's what you get in this offense," he said. "When you've got a mastermind like that in a head coach and a great quarterback, they're going to put you in positions that fit your stature.

"I had an all right day but at the end of the day, you want the win. I'd rather have zero catches with a 'W' than what I did. The emotional side about it is you've just got to find a way to get on top in a game like this.

"Definitely, I'm encouraged by this whole team and what we did. For me, on the offensive side of the ball, I feel like we had something special and we've just got to continue to build."

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