It wasn’t what Jared Cook would consider a breakthrough performance Sunday.
But encouraging? His four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown – all season highs for the 2018 Pro Bowl tight end, who’s in his first season with the New Orleans Saints – was a sign that the arrow is pointing in the right direction.
Cook’s 9-yard touchdown catch from Teddy Bridgewater, with 32 seconds left in the second quarter, gave the Saints the lead for good in their 31-24 victory over Tampa Bay. And it helped Cook achieve his highest level of comfort as a Saint.
“I had a lot of productivity in the pass and the run game, but I know I can still be better,” said Cook, who has 12 receptions for 131 yards this season. “I got a lot of plus-minuses on my grade sheet, and I know I can still get better off some little things. That’s kind of what keeps me hungry, those are things that I can improve on being a big portion of this offense.”
And make no mistake: The Saints – 4-1 and leading the NFC South Division – want Cook to be a big part of the offense.
“Just measuring receptions, touchdowns – he had some big plays,” Coach Sean Payton said. “I feel like, and I felt like heading into that game, we’ve got to continue to look at ways to get him the ball. And he and Teddy hooked up on a handful; the touchdown going in was significant.
“He’s a big target, he’s got a really good grasp as to what we’re doing in the passing game, and so we’ve just got to continue to look at ways to feature him. And oftentimes, he’s opposite of (receiver) Mike (Thomas), so sometimes that goes hand in hand – if Mike’s drawing a cloud, there’s probably going to be opportunities for him opposite of where Mike is.”
The attention drawn by Thomas (11 catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay, a league-leading 45 catches for 543 yards and three touchdowns this season) is helpful. So, too, is the fact that Cook’s role didn’t much change even after the injury to Drew Brees.
Now, it’s just a matter of getting the right defensive looks to take advantage of.
“It’s pretty much been the same,” he said. “The offense, I think it’s changed a little bit, of course, since you have somebody else under center. But I think my role has been pretty consistent. I just go out there and try to do whatever they ask of me to the best of my ability.
“Sometimes you get different, funky looks that you don’t practice all week, or the defense might show you something different than you’ve been practicing all week. But that’s the best thing that us as players to try to do, is be consistent, and just do what the coaches ask you to do and do what you’ve been practicing to do all week.”