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John DeShazier: Jimmy Graham having his way with opposing defenses

Against Tampa Bay even illegal hit didn't slow down Saints tight end


Opponents aren't inclined to concede.

It runs counter to the mentality, contrary to their nature and would be considered a disservice to their vocation, given that their jobs are to prevent offensive players from making them look helpless and hapless.

But what to do with New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who appears to be much more than the next step in the evolutionary chain of his position?

Single coverage on him can be akin to no coverage at all. And double coverage can be little more than a nuisance because at 6 feet 7 and 270 pounds, with the ability to run and jump and navigate like a man eight inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter, his quarterback, Drew Brees, has advised him that even when he's covered, Brees considers Graham open.

With no concession in sight, it's left to Graham to continue to have his way, whether it's given or he has to take it. And so far this season, he has been in a taking mood.

Two games into the season, he has 14 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Sunday, against Tampa Bay, he caught 10 passes for a career-high 179 yards and a touchdown, the 27th of his career, tying him with Henry Childs atop the career list for Saints tight ends.

What Childs did in seven full seasons, Graham has matched two games into his fourth season. And what Graham did to the Buccaneers in a 16-14 Saints victory Sunday in Raymond James Stadium was this: He was a one-man wrecking crew in the passing game.

[internal-link-placeholder-0]He caught Brees' lone touchdown pass, accounted for 56 percent of the Saints' receiving yards and was targeted on 16 of Brees' 44 passing attempts.

"(Sunday) was just one of those nights for me and Drew," Graham said. "He was constantly looking for me and we're trying to exploit that matchup quite a bit, and it was just a night for me. You never know what it's going to be in this offense. Last game (against Atlanta) it was (receiver Marques) Colston, and you really just don't know."

Modesty aside, it pretty much is a given that Graham will factor. In a banged up "off" year last season, he caught 85 passes for 982 yards and nine touchdowns. In 2011, it was 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 scores.

"He's a huge mismatch, a big guy that can run, especially through the middle of the defense," Colston said. "He was awesome for us (Sunday)."

Graham took advantage of a defensive mix-up by Tampa Bay in the first quarter to spring free for a 56-yard touchdown catch. The other nine catches and 123 yards were in heavier traffic, but no matter.

He snagged a 15-yarder on the final drive of the game to help set up the game-winning field goal.

Even a vicious personal foul penalty – Buccaneers safety Ahmad Black launched into the helmet of the defenseless Graham in the second quarter – couldn't slow him. Graham appeared dazed by the hit but two plays later, caught a 29-yard pass down the seam to give the Saints first-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 1-yard line.

The Saints didn't score on the series but Graham rolled up points in the toughness category.

"He got right up after he got hit in the head and it was good to see," Coach Sean Payton said.

"I'm a big guy, so I can take hits like that," Graham said. "That's just the nature of the position, especially in our offense. We run a lot of 'All go.' Me, I'm always down the seam.

"It's a quick play, it's a real bang-bang play, so you know it's going to be probably a big catch for a big hit. Unfortunately on that one (Brees) targeted me a little high and that's just part of the game."

Concession, though, is not. That means Graham will be left to continue taking what will not be given and most of the time, making it look easier than it possibly could be.

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