Seahawks take Saints' Graham out of the equation

Staff writerJanuary 11, 2014 

SEAHAWKS

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, left, sits on the turf after having a pass attempt broken up by Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor. Graham had no catches until the game's closing seconds.

TONY OVERMAN — Staff Photographer Buy Photo

— Jimmy Graham slowly unwrapped the bandage holding the ice pack against his lower back, then let the frozen bag fall to the floor of the New Orleans Saints locker room.

Any physical pain aside, this one had to hurt.

After he finished dressing and stood to address reporters, the Saints tight end faced a bevy of questions about how, exactly, the Seattle Seahawks managed to limit him to a single catch for 8 yards in a 23-15 Seahawks victory in Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff at CenturyLink Field.

This wasn’t the production expected from Graham, who was the Saints’ leading receiver this season with 86 catches for 1,215 yards. Three of those grabs came on Dec. 2, the first time the Saints visited Seattle, when Graham totaled only 42 yards.

He was targeted nine times in that game by quarterback Drew Brees. He was targeted six times on Saturday. “I’m not sure if it’s something they did,” Graham said of the Seahawks. “Drew’s going to throw to the open guy, and if you’ve got people on you, he’s not going to throw you the ball.”

Graham’s only catch came on New Orleans’ final possession, which began with 26 seconds remaining at the Saints’ 41-yard line after they recovered an onside kick. Brees fired a quick pass to Graham in the middle of the field that gained 8 yards.

That was it. The big tight end was smacked around otherwise. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas flew in to break up a pass intended for Graham earlier in the game, after which he pleaded with the officials for a pass interference penalty to no avail.

Graham said the Seahawks’ defense showed him “a lot of different looks. Some of my routes were kind of underneath, so progression wise, maybe not me. When the ball comes my way, I’ve got to make a play. Some of the calls, I feel like, were a little different. But that’s just how it is.”

He made much more noise before the game, when cameras recorded a brief, verbal altercation between Graham and Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin.

Of that exchange, Graham said: “He tried to disrespect me, and I’m not going to let nobody disrespect me.” Asked to expand, Graham replied: “I don’t even want to talk about it.”

“We just wanted to stop him, and he was talking a lot of trash before the game, too,” said Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner. “So that kind of added an extra incentive.”

Irvin said Graham “doesn’t want to be physical, so our biggest thing was to put our hands on him and make him be physical. That’s something he didn’t want to do, and I think it was successful.”

Graham’s lack of involvement in New Orleans’ passing game may be an indictment of how much the Saints struggled to throw the ball in the first half when wind and rain made it difficult to put the ball in the air. They threw for only 34 yards before halftime, though Brees finished with 24 completions in 43 tries for 309 yards.

“They force you to be patient and play a lot of that deep thirds coverage, and we’ve got to find ways to try to get him more touches early,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “And he grabs obviously a lot of attention, so it’s good on their part.”

He wished he’d done more to help earn a victory, Graham said, “but tonight wasn’t one of those nights.” It was one to forget for the rest of his teammates, too. Seattle’s defense had something to do with that.

“It’s as complete a defense as there is in this league,” Brees said. “There’s a reason that they were top-ranked in so many categories.”

christian.caple@thenewstribune.com

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