NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints receiver Brandon Cooks looks ready to fulfill the promise he showed as a rookie last season before smashing his hand on a helmet.
Cooks caught all four passes thrown his way for 117 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown from Drew Brees, and the New Orleans Saints raced to a 21-0 lead before the New England Patriots rallied for a 26-24 preseason victory Saturday night
Brees, a healthy scratch last week when New Orleans (0-2) lost at Baltimore, was 8 of 10 for 159 yards and two TDs, the other going to veteran tight end Ben Watson.
After Tom Brady failed to move New England (1-1) for a first down on three series, backup Jimmy Garoppolo led five scoring drives, starting with his scramble and 24-yard scoring pass to Chris Harper.
Dion Lewis added an 11-yard TD run and James White scored from 3 yards. New England finally pulled in front on Stephen Gostkowski’s second field goal, a 35-yarder with 14 seconds left.
Cooks, a 2014 first-round draft choice, missed the final six games of last season with a broken thumb. But he has come back strong this preseason. In New Orleans’ exhibition opener, Cooks turned a short pass into a 28-yard score.
Brees led scoring drives on all three of his series. He opened the game by marching New Orleans 61 yards, highlighted by a 29-yard pass to running back Mark Ingram, to set up Dustin Hopkins’ 27-yard field goal. The Saints led 21-0 after tight end Josh Hill caught a 6-yard pass from backup QB Luke McCown. New Orleans might have led by more if not for three failed 2-point tries, one on a run by Khiry Robinson, the others on incomplete passes intended for Marques Colton and Brandon Coleman.
New England, meanwhile, could have tied it on White’s TD run, but also could not convert a 2-point try on a pass for Jonathan Krause.
Garoppolo finished 28 of 33 for 269 yards and one touchdown. He was also intercepted by Pierre Warren, who returned the ball 33 yards to the Patriots 15. But the Saints, with rookie quarterback Garrett Grayson in the game, settled for a short field goal and a 24-21 lead.
Garoppolo then returned to drive New England for a pair of field goals, starting with Gostkowsi’s 36-yarder.
Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski suited up but did not play, further limiting receiving options for a team already playing without Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman. That may have contributed to Brady’s struggles. Harper finished as New England’s leading receiver with five catches for 69 yards, while Brandon Gibson added eight catches for 68 yards.