Less than a year ago, Jimmy Graham was flat on his back in the end zone at CenturyLink Field, with Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, quarterback Russell Wilson and several other players corralled around him.
Graham’s right leg snagged the turf on an incomplete pass, and he fell backward. He was taken off the field on a cart in the fourth quarter on Nov. 29, before the Seahawks won a thriller over Pittsburgh.
“That was the hardest day of my life, and I’ve been through quite a bit,” Graham said. “That was the hardest year of my life.”
The knee injury — later deemed a patellar tendon tear — immobilized Graham at his Florida home. He had surgery. He didn’t walk until March, and was limited in preseason practices.
He made a perhaps unlikely return in Seattle’s season opener against Miami, catching one 11-yard pass on his only target.
“I worked every day since the moment I got injured, and I continue to work,” Graham said. “It’s not about me. I just want to be out here for the guys and prove myself. I’m going to keep doing that every game.”
On Sunday at CenturyLink, Graham was Seattle’s leading receiver for the second consecutive game. He hauled in six catches for 89 yards as the Seahawks held on to edge Atlanta, 26-24.
“I can never talk about it, really, the injury, but I’m just blessed to be on the field every day,” Graham said. “It’s a battle for me every day. I’m just happy to be with my guys. Happy to get the win.”
Graham barely missed a snap. He was on the field for 62 of Seattle’s 65 offensive plays against the Falcons, and had at least one catch in three of the Seahawks’ five scoring drives — including an 8-yard reception on the first play from scrimmage that ignited a roaring crowd.
“He’s playing great,” Carroll said. “Three solid weeks of back-to-back-to-back big factor in the games. Watching him this week, after the week off, he’s never been better.”
It was a long way back. When Graham went down last November, his season ended with 22 catches for 355 yards and two touchdowns — his lowest totals since he was drafted by New Orleans in 2010.
But since his return, Graham has proved one of Wilson’s more trusted targets.
“We’ve been great, honestly, all summer, just transitioning into now,” Wilson said. “He can do so many great things, and he’s such a physical player. He can catch any football you throw to him.”
Graham has factored in each of Seattle’s last three wins, and has had six receptions in each game. He tallied more than 100 yards receiving against San Francisco (100) and the New York Jets (113) before Seattle’s bye week.
“At any time last year, he was never as physically fit as he is right now,” Carroll said. “He’s sharp and razor-edge, and boned up, and he looks great. He’s a little bit thinner than he’s been, and he looked fast as heck in practice this week.”
Suggestions have started stirring that Graham might be approaching a peak coming off of rehabilitation. He’s still big and fast, and that’s what matters, he said.
“He knows it, too,” Carroll said. “He continues to play great football, and we love having him.”
The tight end, more than any other receiver it sometimes seems, is met with booming cheers by the Seattle faithful each time he comes down with a catch.
“He brings the energy on the field when he makes a big play,” Wilson said. “Hard work pays off, and when you continue to put the hard work in, great things happen.”
The hard work, and the months it took to return to the field, have humbled Graham.
“I’ll never take a second on the field for granted,” he said. “I’ll never take a blade of grass on that field, ever, for granted. … I treasure it more and more each day.”