ST. LOUIS, Mo. — After his first touchdown as a St. Louis Ram was punched away by a diving Honey Badger, Jared Cook got an earful from his quarterback.
“Hey, bro, be ready,” Sam Bradford recalled telling the tight end. “Because it’s coming right back to you.”
It did, again and again, and the early blemish on Cook’s regular season debut for the Rams was scrubbed clean, thanks to two touchdowns that counted and a key catch on the fourth-quarter drive that helped St. Louis beat Arizona 27-24 on Sunday.
It was the first time in Cook’s pro career that he had scored more than one touchdown in a game. It was validation that the lofty goals he has been chirping about since he arrived might actually be within reach.
“Near perfect,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of Cook’s performance. “With the exception. That’s why he is here. We have an accurate passer who can find him, and he can make plays on the ball.”
It started on such a sour note.
“That’s never something you want to happen,” Cook said. “I wish I could have that one back. I still wish I could have it back after that type of game … He made a good play.”
He — Arizona safety Tyrann Mathieu — certainly did. The rookie lightning rod out of LSU caught a sprinting Cook from behind, lunging and poking the football away to spoil what seemed certain to be a 55-yard touchdown on the Rams’ second series. A St. Louis score turned into an Arizona touchback in an instant.
“It was one of the best plays I have ever seen at this level,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “It was all-out hustle.”
It was also a gut punch to Cook and a fan base that has been hearing for months how the dynamic playmaker from Tennessee might be the most potent addition to Bradford’s arsenal.
Cook hasn’t been bashful about selling his narrative. He feels he was drastically underutilized as a Titan (he had 131 catches and eight touchdowns in four seasons). Now, he feels he can truly shine. But fumbling a few strides from pay dirt isn’t very reassuring.
“It would have been really easy for him to get down right there,” Bradford said. “He showed a ton of maturity and confidence coming back and playing the way he did after that.”
Come back, he did.
Cook snagged a 13-yard touchdown pass from Bradford in the second quarter, stretching out his 6-foot-4 frame to ensure the ball crossed the goal line this time. At the start of the fourth quarter, with the Rams trailing 24-13, he wiggled wide open int the end zone and caught a 1-yard strike from Bradford for touchdown No. 2. Then, when the score was knotted at 24-24 and the clock was dwindling, Cook turned a short reception on the right side of the field into a 25-yard gallop into Arizona territory, the catalyst that helped create Greg Zuerlein’s game-winning 48-yard field goal.
Cook caught seven of the 10 passes that came his way. He totaled 141 receiving yards when no other Rams player had more than 41. And then there was that personal record thing.
“That’s really surprising,” Bradford said. “A guy with his talent and his ability, for this to be his first game with two touchdowns … I mean, that’s almost shocking. Hopefully this is the first of many multiple touchdown games for him.”
Cook is on board with that idea.
He said so after answering nearly six minutes of questions from reporters and before receiving a gracious handshake from team owner Stan Kroenke.
“Why not?” Cook said. “I’m here. Might as well.”
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.