ATLANTA – It was only a year ago that Brandin Cooks was in Minnesota, wearing a pullover with a Patriots logo stitched on the front, as he answered reporters' questions at Super Bowl LII Opening Night. Tonight in Atlanta's State Farm Arena, he sat again at a podium, this time taking questions with a Los Angeles Rams logo on his chest. He remarked at how quickly the past year has passed for him.
Cooks' participation in last year's NFL championship game didn't last long. He was knocked out of the contest early with a concussion, and, of course, defending champion New England was eventually knocked off by the Philadelphia Eagles. During the 2018 offseason, the Patriots dealt Cooks to the Rams in exchange mainly for a first-round draft choice.
It was an unceremonious end to the veteran wide receiver's one and only season as a Patriot, but he insisted Monday that he harbors no ill will toward New England.
"No, not personal at all," Cooks explained. "Anytime you get into that, you start to do things out of the ordinary. I know I'm going against a great team, and I'm blessed to still be playing football in February. I'll let everything else take care of itself."
It's been several years longer since Cooks' Rams teammate, cornerback Aqib Talib, suited up for New England. Talib spent a year-and-a-half with the Patriots, arriving in a trade from Tampa Bay in mid-2012. In 2014, he signed as a free agent with Denver, where he won his first Super Bowl in 2015.
Now in his first year with Los Angeles, Talib has a chance to win another title, this time at the expense of his former club. Yet, when asked about what he remembers most about his brief tenure in Foxborough, the soon-to-be 33-year-old became somewhat philosophical.
"I think I learned how to be a pro," declared Talib. "Bill [Belichick] really holds guys accountable, no matter who you are. You learn to be a little more of a pro when you go to New England. The study habits I picked up, set more alarms [to keep from being late]."
During the prime-time media spectacle that is Opening Night, Cooks and Talib were both asked throughout their hour-long appearances about their connections to New England. In particular, they shared thoughts on 41-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, whose performance came under considerable scrutiny earlier this season.
"Great dude. I talked to him, probably, last week," Talib revealed. "Nah, he ain't lost nothing. He's in the Super Bowl again. Hey, he's Tom Brady. Every year you play, you get smarter, the game slows down even more. It's another year under his belt. I think he's just getting better."
Cooks agreed that he hasn't seen any noticeable drop-off in Brady's play this season.
"Absolutely not. No. no," he emphasized. "For him to be on this stage once more at 40-plus, I think that speaks for itself. Anytime you're one of the best, you're always going to be hated in a sense."
Perhaps more as a person than a player, Brady apparently left quite an impression on Cooks in their relatively short stint as teammates.
"How cool he was," Cooks recalled, "and how he treated everyone the same. I've got a lot of respect for a guy like that, who's so high-level, high-profile, and he treated every player the same, the janitor, the chefs… talk about a guy that's genuinely nice to everyone around him."
Complimentary as both men were Monday, they also acknowledged that they very much want to beat the Patriots this coming Sunday. During New England's send-off rally at Gillette Stadium Sunday, safety/co-captain Patrick Chung promised the tens of thousands of fans who attended, in no uncertain terms, that the Patriots would prevail over the Rams.
That declaration didn't go unheard by Los Angeles.
"Everybody would like to use bulletin board material," Talib conceded with a playful grin, "but he's my [friend]… What's up P. Chung?"
"Just Pat being Pat," Cooks chuckled. "It's football. It's our competitive nature. The juices are flowing and you expect that from opponents.
"I look forward to it, more so that we're in the Super Bowl again, not necessarily thinking it's my former team. Just blessed to be in this position, another opportunity to play on the biggest stage. Hopefully, we finish the right way."