St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook (89) breaks a tackle from Atlanta Falcons defense end Kroy Biermann (71) in the first half of their NFL football game in Atlanta, Georgia September 15, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Tami Chappell)
ATLANTA — Coming off a record-setting first game with the St. Louis Rams, Jared Cook appeared primed for a big homecoming on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
It didn’t happen, though.
The North Gwinnett graduate was held to one catch and the Atlanta Falcons built a big early lead before holding on for a 31-24 victory.
“I wanted to improve my performance and have a good game, you always do,” said Cook, who signed with St. Louis as a free agent after four seasons with Tennessee. “But sometimes it doesn’t happen. Every game is different.”
The former South Carolina standout was the focal point of the Rams’ offense a week ago in a comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals, averaging 20.1 yards on seven catches and scoring twice at St. Louis.
The Falcons, though, were ahead 21-0 before a ball was thrown Cook’s way and his only catch was for 10 yards in second quarter prior to a St. Louis field goal.
Cook was targeted six times by quarterback Sam Bradford, but five of the passes came no where near the 6-foot-5 tight end.
Falcons coach Mike Smith had lavished Cook with praise for his opening performance.
“He had a gigantic game. That guy can run,” Smith said.
So the Falcons, who have had trouble with tight ends, were determined that there wasn’t an encore at their expense.
“They definitely did some different things than the Cardinals did, but that just comes with the game,” Cook said. “No team is going to be the same week to week.”
The Falcons made sure that Cook didn’t have an easy time getting off the line of scrimmage, jamming him when they could.
“They were putting a linebacker on me every time I released and bringing the safety up,” he said. “It was a little something different, but that just opens up opportunities for other guys to ball up.”
The Rams' offense didn’t get going until too late, though.
“We didn’t do a good job in the first half,” Cook said. “It’s two halves and you have to play the whole game.”
Some around the NFL thought that the Rams had overpaid when they gave Cook a five-year deal worth $35.1 million, with $19 million guaranteed. After all, the 2009 third-round draft choice had started just 11 games in his four seasons with the Titans.
Cook, however, showed in his St. Louis debut that the money was not misspent. His 141 yards on seven catches was a Rams record for a tight end and he almost had three touchdowns instead of two.
Arizona rookie Tyrann Mathieu – the “Honey Badger” from Louisiana State – raced down Cook and stripped the ball short of a potential 55-yard TD.
“It happens,” Cook said. “I was just moving, man, and he caught me by surprise.”
Cook atoned, though, with 13-yard and 1-yard TD catches, and had a 25-yard grab to set up Greg Zuerlein's 48-yard field goal with 40 seconds left to complete the 27-24 comeback victory.
Although it was Cook’s first multi-touchdown game, it wasn’t his best for catches or yardage. He had a nine-catch game against Indianapolis late in the 2011 season and followed that up the next week by gaining 169 yards on eight catches against Jacksonville.
The yardage total against the Jaguars set a Tennessee record for a tight end and showed just what kind of potential Cook had. But he fell from 49 catches in 2011 to 43 last season, when he missed the final three games.
Tennessee decided not to put the franchise tag on Cook and St. Louis stepped up on the recommendation of coach Jeff Fisher, who had been with the Titans when the tight end was drafted.
It was Cook’s second game at the Georgia Dome and the other also ended in a loss. He had five catches for 51 yards in 2011 as the Falcons beat the Titans 23-17.
Cook had plenty of family and friends rooting for him this time, too.
“It was just another game for me, but it was easy for everyone to just travel down the road,” he said.
They didn’t get to see what they’d hoped for, though. The Falcons put a damper on the occasion.