Shayne Graham signed with the New Orleans Saints less than a month ago, and the 36-year old kicker proved an effective replacement for Garrett Hartley in his first three games.
In those contests, Graham made each of his six field-goal attempts, including a perfect 4-for-4 performance in the Saints Wildcard round playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
CenturyLink Field, drenched by rain and harried by wind, provided a different challenge. One Graham couldnt overcome.
The 36-year-old missed twice in the Saints 23-15 loss to the Seahawks in Saturdays Divisional playoff, pulling both attempts from 45 and 48 yards wide left.
The first, kicked into a wicked headwind, would have tied the score at 3-3 in the first quarter.
The second, booted against the wind again, would have cut Seattles lead to 16-11 with 5:31 to play in the game.
Afterward, Graham acknowledged the weather was a factor, but offered no excuses.
If it was easy, everyone would do it, Graham said. But my job as a professional athlete is to make those kicks, no matter what the situation is. It would have been big plays to help the team if we made them. Who knows if it would have made a difference in winning or losing the game, but we get opportunities when we get opportunities, and I just hate it for everyone that I wasnt able to make those kicks.
He practiced the same kick earlier this week, he said, and left it short. So when Graham took the field to attempt from a similar distance on Saturday, I knew I wasnt going to leave that one short. I hit it hard. I just didnt put it between the yellow posts.
The way the wind was whipping around the flags at CenturyLink, its worth wondering if the Saints would have been better off attempting to pick up a first down on Grahams second attempt instead of kicking the field goal.
Or, rather, it would be worth wondering if the Saints hadnt been facing fourth-and-15.
With the numbers, I didnt consider it, Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Most acknowledged the wind was an issue.
We obviously knew the wind was going to be a factor in this game, said New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, who threw a couple of first-half passes that appeared to flutter on him. Like I said, it seemed very unpredictable at times. It was swirling it was from our bench across but then it favored one direction or the other. But man, you just have to play.
Said Payton: In the first half, it felt like it was swirling. The wind was blowing left to right on our sidelines, which was different than the last game. It was tough conditions for everyone. Credit the plays they were able to make. They made more than we did.
Marques Colston, the Saints receiver whose illegal forward pass officially ended Saturdays game, declined to answer questions from reporters afterward.
Payton wasnt much more forthcoming.
Well have to watch the film, Payton said of the final play, during which Colston caught a pass next to the sideline with a few seconds remaining, then attempted a lateral across the field that was clearly thrown forward. Next question.
Colston, who led the Saints with 11 catches for 144 yards, could have stepped out of bounds and given the Saints a chance to take one final throw into the end zone. Instead, his penalty mandated a 10-second clock runoff, which ended the game.
FUMBLE SETS UP SEAHAWKS
The games only turnover was a big one, as Saints running back Mark Ingram fumbled at his teams 24-yard line on the first play of the second quarter. Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett forced the fumble and recovered it.
Two plays later, the Seahawks were in the end zone for the first time, their lead pushed to 13-0.
He got me at the last second. I didnt see him, Ingram said. Not until the last second, and he just knocked the ball out. Its critical that we take care of the football. We cant help them out.
Every time I carry the football, Im carrying the teams dreams and aspirations. I let them down at a critical moment in the game. Thats unfortunate. I work awful hard, and it wasnt enough today.
Ingram carried 10 times for 49 yards. The Saints finished with 108 yards rushing on 26 carries.