GREEN BAY — Jared Cook didn’t recognize the number, so naturally he didn’t answer it.
“I don’t answer unknown numbers,” said Cook with a laugh on Thursday.
The veteran tight end’s phone was lighting up soon after he’d signed with the Packers last March. In sticking to his maxim, Cook let the unknown number fade into his missed calls.
A few moments later, however, he received a text message. It was Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the other end, reaching out to welcome Cook to the team.
“I didn’t answer the phone the first time and then he just shot me a text telling me who it was,” said Cook, smiling. “I called him back and we talked for a little bit.”
The two exchanged the usual pleasantries. Cook expressed how happy he was to be heading to Green Bay, and Rodgers told the ninth-year veteran that he was excited to work with him.
Last Sunday, the chemistry Rodgers and Cook have developed over the last 10 months was on display in the final moments of the Packers’ NFC Divisional playoff game in Dallas.
Rodgers, choosing from a menu of two-minute plays, directed Cook near the Cowboys’ sideline in what would turn out to be a 36-yard sideline completion destined for national highlight reels.
The play completed a six-catch, 104-yard performance by Cook and set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal from 51 yards to send the Packers into this week’s NFC title game against Atlanta.
While Cook did his homework when he signed with Green Bay, there were challenges. Learning a completely new system, it didn’t help that he missed the end of the offseason program after undergoing a foot procedure.
When he was starting to look comfortable in the offense, Cook sustained an ankle injury that sidelined him for six games. His return against Washington on Nov. 20 has coincided with the start of an offensive revitalization and the team’s subsequent turnaround.
“I think it's been very beneficial for both parties,” said Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy of Cook’s signing. “He had a couple of challenges there with the two injuries, but you can see right away that he's a unique talent. He's been a great fit for, not only our offense, but for our football team.”
Cook has caught 35 passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns in nine games since his return. If you prorate those numbers over a full season, Cook would be on pace for nearly 70 catches and more than 800 yards.
Cook had a good idea of what his role might be in the offense after speaking with the coaching staff during his visit. He also was familiar with the impact former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley made in Green Bay prior to sustaining a career-ending neck injury.
McCarthy’s experience working with Finley helped expedite Cook’s integration. As with Finley, the ability to use Cook in a variety of ways, whether it’s as a traditional tight end, H-back or split out in the slot or boundary, only added to his versatility.
Cook fit the bill when it came to McCarthy’s desire to bring in a dynamic playmaker who could attack the middle of defenses.
“When you have an athletic tight end, whether it’s Jermichael or Jared, there’s opportunities you try to create for them,” McCarthy said. “So playing in displaced formations for the tight end position, I mean, we’ve always done that here.
“Our offensive system is built that whatever our personnel department brings to the table, we need to make sure we can take advantage of that man’s skillset. And that’s just the way we’ve always done it.”
Along with that past experience, the other factor contributing to Cook quickly picking up the system was his work ethic. Knowing he faced a tall order transitioning to McCarthy’s offense, Cook kept his head in the Packers’ playbook as much as he could.
Cook also communicated frequently with Rodgers, which helped keep him in the loop when he missed time last summer with the foot injury and again with the ankle midseason.
Rodgers wasn’t worried about the time Cook missed because the tight end had worked so hard to get on the same page with his new quarterback.
Any concern with possible rust after the six-game layoff was quickly absolved when Cook caught six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown in his first game back against Washington.
“He’s been a big part of our success,” Rodgers said. “He does a good job using his body. I mean, he’s a big man. He’s a tall, strong guy. Does a good job separating from coverages and, I’ll say it again, the comments I heard before he got to us was about his hands. We haven’t had any problems with that.”
Cook said he’s watched his catch from the Cowboys game “quite a bit” over the last few days, admitting it’s “kind of hard not to” given how few quarterbacks could make the throw Rodgers did.
This Sunday’s NFC Championship Game will be a homecoming of sorts for Cook, who went to high school down the road from the Georgia Dome. He often attended games there with a friend of his, whose father, Scott Case, played for the Falcons.
Cook missed the first game against Atlanta due to the ankle injury, but he’s excited to get a chance to play in the final game at the venue.
His role could be extensive again with injury questions at receiver. As for his own setbacks, Cook never wavered in his belief that he could make an impact on the Packers’ offense.
His performance over the last nine games has helped prove that intuition right.
“When you go into things in life, you don’t go in with a negative attitude like, ‘Oh my gosh. What happens if this happens?’” Cook said. “You go in with a positive attitude and a positive outlook, and if something does happen, you take a little detour but you get back on path.
“You don’t go into it with a negative mindset. You always think positive. That’s where my mind frame has always been and always will be.”