HOUSTON -- Two days before the Houston Texans picked up their first victory of the season, wide receiver Brandin Cooks sat at the podium answering questions about the slow start for himself and the Texans' offense.
Through four games, the team was winless and Cooks had been targeted just 18 times and had just 138 receiving yards. Cooks has been around the block in the NFL, though. He knows that receivers often aren't productive every week. He knew that patience was going to be required, especially with a new team.
“That’s the biggest thing that I’ve been telling myself -- just be ready when the opportunity comes,” Cooks said.
Two days later, that opportunity came for Cooks, and it didn’t take long to realize it was going to be his day. On the Texans’ first offensive play of the game, quarterback Deshaun Watson hit Cooks with a 36-yard pass down the right sideline that the receiver caught in stride.
“I know Cookie [Cooks] didn’t have a catch last week, so we wanted to get him going early,” Watson said.
Cooks jumped up, flexing his arms in celebration and letting out a loud yell. That was just the first of many targets for Cooks on Sunday, who finished with eight catches on 12 targets for 161 yards and a touchdown, his first for the Texans. It was the most catches he’d made in a game since Week 3 of the 2019 season (when he played for the Los Angeles Rams) and his most receiving yards in a game since he had 186 yards in a 2016 game with the Saints.
“The reason he's here is because he has ability and has produced in this league, and so [Sunday] we were able to see what he can do,” Texans interim head coach Romeo Crennel said. “You know, in the past four games or whatever, I know Deshaun has said sometimes when he made his read, Cooks wasn't there, but [Sunday] Cooks was there and they connected. And then once they started connecting, you keep feeding him, and he had a great game in production and helped us win.”
While Cooks was quick to say the lack of offseason reps he got with Watson and this Texans offense were just an excuse to why they weren’t connecting. But he was in and out of practices during training camp while dealing with a quad injury. And because he and Watson were still building that chemistry, Watson was leaning on Will Fuller through the first month of the season.
But one of the biggest plays in Sunday's game -- Cooks’ 28-yard touchdown catch on fourth down as the Texans put the game away -- showed Cooks that chemistry and trust had been built.
“I think that moment defined the trust right there,” Cooks said. “Not only from a player-to-player standpoint but from a coach-to-player standpoint. You know, calling it in a ‘got to have it’ situation. All guys were open; he just happened to come to me and I just tried to do my best to make something happen for the offense. He threw a great ball and the rest was history.”
Watson said that play -- and the game Cooks had -- built a lot of confidence.
“[I can] rip it whenever he's playing, whenever he's got a guy on him or he's running free open, I can just rip it and he's going to catch it and make something happen,” Watson said.
When the Texans traded for Cooks in April, the idea was to pair the speedy receiver with two others already on the roster, Fuller and Kenny Stills, to have an offense that was capable of “explosive plays” all game.
Through the first four games, the Texans and Watson had struggled to get all three involved in the same game. Before Sunday, Cooks’ best game came in Week 2 against the Ravens, when he had five catches for 95 yards. In that game, Fuller did not have a single target. When Fuller had six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown in Week 4, Cooks did not make a catch.
Finally, on Sunday, Watson found success throwing to both Cooks and Fuller in the same game. Fuller had four catches for 58 yards and a touchdown on eight targets. Watson hopes the Texans can build on this game and finally see that explosive offense they’ve seen in practice.
“You never know who can make a big play,” Watson said. “One week it's Will [Fuller], one week it's Cooky [Cooks], one week it's [Randall] Cobb, then one week it could be [Kenny] Stills or the tight ends. We have so many weapons that can really be very, very explosive. We've just got to make sure we take advantage of those times and those opportunities for us to do that.”