Cooper goes home and plays best game
TAMPA, Fla. - The last time Riley Cooper was here and saw his parents, he was returning home in shame.
Raised in nearby Clearwater, Cooper met with his parents, Larry and Monica, on Saturday at the Eagles hotel. The wide receiver had not had a productive first five games.
Still, the face-to-face meeting with his parents was under much different circumstances from two months ago, when Cooper took a leave of absence after a video surfaced that showed him using a racial slur at a concert.
But on Sunday, Cooper had the best game of his career - catching four passes for 120 yards and a score - and he said after the Eagles' 31-20 victory over the Buccaneers that he planned to give his mother the touchdown ball.
"It means a lot to come back here," Cooper said. "I grew up going to these games and watching Derrick Brooks and Mike Alstott and [Ronde] Barber and all those guys. So it's cool to come back and actually play a couple of good games."
Cooper finished with four catches for 37 yards a year ago, when the Eagles traveling party took over Tampa and beat the Bucs. But this return trip home was different, too. He's the No. 2 receiver now, and the Eagles needed Cooper to produce with DeSean Jackson seeing a steady dose of double teams.
In the first five games, Cooper caught just eight passes for 93 yards and a touchdown even though he played 90 percent of the plays on offense. No other NFL receiver who played more than 60 percent of his team's plays was less effective receiving.
"Some guys would get upset because they're not getting the ball. I'm not a very selfish person," Cooper said. "I just want to win games. Like I keep saying, everyone's time's going to come, and today I got a few looks and made a couple plays."
Quarterback Nick Foles targeted Cooper six times Sunday. The looks were there early in the season - 16 targets in three games - but he had only six catches. But the numbers decreased in the next two games (only three targets), as did Cooper's number of snaps.
Was he worried that Jeff Maehl, who cut into his playing time against the New York Giants, would continue to get more snaps?
"We're not worried about that," Cooper said. "Everybody's got to get in there to play. You're a good player if you're in the NFL."
Cooper is a good downfield blocker, which is an important attribute in Chip Kelly's screen-heavy offense. He's got good size, too, and isn't afraid to run into traffic. But he lacks the speed and agility of Jeremy Maclin, who was lost for the season in July after tearing a knee ligament.
There was a stretch of games when defenses went man-to-man against the Eagles, sometimes shading a safety toward Jackson, and both receivers had trouble getting open. Michael Vick also had trouble finding them.
Vick completed just 46 percent of his passes in the 21/2 games before he injured his hamstring last week against the Giants. Foles has connected on 69 percent since.
Three Eagles receivers caught 20 passes for 338 yards and one touchdown from Vick in those 21/2 games. Five have caught 21 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns in Foles' 11/2 games.
Vick's passing in the first two games was sharp, and the explosiveness he brings to the running game should not be discounted. But the Eagles aerial attack was dormant until Foles stepped in.
Among several Eagles offensive players who were asked, each said that Vick should remain the starter when he returns even though Foles hasn't missed a beat.
"I don't really look at Nick as a backup," Jackson said.
Jackson has scored two red-zone touchdowns in two weeks. Foles hit him over the middle for 12 yards in the back of the end zone in the second quarter. They hooked up in the fourth for the knockout blow and a 28-20 lead when Jackson lined up in the slot and slipped free of the safeties for a 36-yard score.
It was the first time in Jackson's career that he caught two receiving touchdowns in one game. He has five scores this season. He had just six in 2011-12 combined. Despite Cooper's early-season ineffectiveness, Jackson has been getting open. Kelly said Cooper has been getting open, too.
"The opportunities were there [Sunday]," Kelly said. "That's the way I've felt all along with Riley. I think he's an outstanding receiver, and when the ball's thrown to him he catches it. The ball was thrown to him today and he did a great job. I'm really happy for Riley."
Cooper's touchdown came early in the third quarter, when he beat rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks on a straight go route for 47 yards. A quarter later, he set up Jackson's last score when he ran a short hitch route, turned away from one tackler, juked another, and lumbered 44 yards.
After the game, Cooper ran over to a section at Raymond James Stadium where some family and friends were sitting. He was the last Eagle off the field.
"It's always good to see family," Cooper said.