Willie Snead wasn’t surprised by what happened Sunday.
While the rest of New Orleans was constantly refreshing Twitter, looking for an update on Drew Brees’ injured foot, the Saints were watching film, confident their leader was going to heal in time for Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
And Brees did more than heal. He took the field and proceeded to shred the Jacksonville defense to pieces, leading New Orleans to a 38-27 victory at the Superdome.
It was an impressive feat. For a quarterback with an endless supply of accolades, records and statistics, it probably wouldn’t resonate deeply to say it was the 13th 400-yard game of his career, or to call it one of the better games of his season. Brees has made a career off making the spectacular seem mundane.
But after watching Brees (25-of-36, 412 yards, three touchdowns) limp around the field on a Grade 2 tear of the plantar fascia in his right foot, and after listenning to him talk about the immense pain he was in after sitting out Thursday’s practice, it’s hard not to realize something special happened here Sunday afternoon.
But, again, Snead wasn’t surprised. It was the expected outcome.
“It really wasn’t a surprise,” Snead said. “We watched this team all week and knew what their weaknesses were and took advantage of that.”
Brandin Cooks spent the afternoon with his eyes bulging out of his head. Play after play, the Jaguars were putting him in coverage without safety help over the top. He also had confidence in Brees’ ability to plant his injured foot and drive the ball down the field after practicing with him Friday and Saturday, so he knew that it was only going to be a matter of time.
So, after getting the look a handful of times, the Saints called a shot play to Cooks on the second drive of the game, and Brees found his receiver deep down the sideline. After pulling the ball in, Cooks ran his way to the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown.
“Your eyes always start to light up when that happens,” Cooks said. “You know your coach sees it. You know sooner or later a play is going to be dialed up for you. You’ve just got to be patient, and it did.”
With five catches for 123 yards, Cooks passed the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time in his two-year career and is now at 1,116 receiving yards. He has an outside chance of reaching 1,200 yards in the season finale against the Atlanta Falcons.
It’s somewhat surprising that he’s at this mark considering the frustration he experienced earlier in the season. Cooks often was running into double coverage, and New Orleans was doing different things to scheme him open.
Through four games, the 5-foot-10 receiver had 20 catches for 215 yards, making it seem as though this was going to be a season full of frustration and disappointment. But Cooks has shown significant growth since the slow start and now has four 100-yard games and another with 98.
Furthermore, he has emerged as the deep threat the team was hoping for when it selected him in the first round of the 2014 draft. He now has 14 catches on throws that traveled 20 or more yards through the air. That figure is the most by a Saints player dating to the 2007 season, according to Pro Football Focus.
This is no small feat, considering this organization has never been on short supply of deep passes. But again, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Cooks credits his emergence to the work he put in with Brees during the offseason.
“You’re starting to see the fruits of that labor. Those things do not go unnoticed,” Cooks said. “It may (not) seem like it, but we know that work is helping us become better and better and come on time as we are late in the season.”
Brees added: “It’s awesome. (Cooks) deserves it. It’s tremendous. He has a great work ethic. He did a lot to prepare himself coming into the season. He’s been healthy. I’m really happy for him.”
Earlier in the week, Brees said having receivers like Cooks and Snead make him look forward to future seasons with the Saints. With Cooks already hitting the 1,000-yard barrier, Snead needs only 51 yards to get over it next week against the Atlanta Falcons.
The last time New Orleans had a 1,000-yard wide receiver was in 2012, when Marques Colston (1,154) and Lance Moore (1,041) reached the mark. Tight end Jimmy Graham (1,215) hit the mark in 2013.
Snead hasn’t been shy in saying how much he wants to reach the mark, and he agrees with Brees that the future is bright for the offense.
“That’d be awesome,” Snead said. “Two 1,000-yard receivers. It’s my first year with 1,000 yards in my first season, Brandin’s first season with 1,000 yards. It just shows what the future can hold for the Saints.”
Maybe this is the point in the season where you forget about the team’s 6-9 record and all the rumors surrounding Sean Payton’s future, and the report that came out Sunday morning saying Brees will have to take a hometown discount to return to New Orleans.
Those situations will play themselves out. But unless something drastic happens, New Orleans has two young, developing receivers and a quarterback tough enough to play through anything.
That means something, even if some of it has come as a surprise to the rest of us.