The New Orleans Saints' preseason finale likely was supposed to be a showcase for players on the fringe, giving them a final opportunity to make a lasting impression and to, perhaps, claim a spot on the 53-man roster.
Maybe nobody explained it to tight end Jimmy Graham that way.
The 13-year veteran stole the show and provided the coaching staff all it needed to see from him, and more, in the Saints’ 17-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday night in the Caesars Superdome.
Graham caught three passes for 34 yards and a touchdown, but it was a catch in the first and second quarters, respectively, that provided the fireworks for Graham, whose status as a fan favorite has carried over from his first stint as a Saint (2010-14).
With 52 seconds left in the first quarter, and first-and-10 from the Texans' 36-yard line, quarterback Jameis Winston lofted a back-shoulder throw for Graham down the right side, and the 6-foot-7 Graham twisted around and made a 25-yard catch over linebacker Christian Harris.
Then, early in the second quarter and on the same drive, with third-and-2 from the Houston 3-yard line, Winston zipped a pass to the right that found Graham in the end zone – after the tight end, in one-on-one coverage, mimicked his days as a college basketball player at the University of Miami and posted up 6-foot Texans cornerback Ka'dar Hollman, boxed him out and caught the jump ball to end the 10-play, 63-yard drive.
Graham then faked out everyone by running toward the crossbar as if preparing to dunk the football, but instead tossed it in from of him.
The score tied the game at 7, but more, it flashed the Graham of yore.
"It was nice to see Jimmy had a couple of nice catches, a couple of contested catches," Coach Dennis Allen said.
"I think that was one of the things that, we've said this – we don't have to see it every day from these guys, particularly the veteran players, but yet at some point we have to see it. And we saw it tonight."
Allen said Graham has been trending in the right direction for more than a week, dating to the joint practices against the Chargers in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Aug. 17 and 18. Graham suffered a medical episode while in California and was held out of the preseason game against the Chargers last Sunday.
"Probably since the Chargers practices, I started to see some signs of the mental picture that I have of Jimmy Graham," Allen said. "Then I saw it this week in practice, and I saw it carry over into the game. So, that was a positive."
Graham aside, there also was positive traction from rookie defensive tackle Bryan Bresee (a quarterback hit and a tackle), the Saints' first-round draft choice, and rookie defensive end Isaiah Foskey (two tackles, a sack, a quarterback hit and a tackle for loss), New Orleans' second-round pick.
"I thought (Bresee) was active in the game, both against the run and with the pass rush," Allen said. "Looked like there was a couple of good things I saw out of Isaiah Foskey, also."
Among players possibly looking to make a final impression in the game were safety Ugo Amadi (three tackles), linebacker Nephi Sewell (five tackles), receivers A.T. Perry (three catches for 12 yards) and Shaq Davis (two for 18), and kicker Blake Grupe (2-for-3 on field goals, with a made 50-yarder and a missed kick from 60).
"We've got some tough decisions that are coming up, we've got a lot of good football players on this team," Allen said. "We've got to make some decisions over the next 48 hours.
"This time of year is always difficult, and probably more difficult this year, and that's a good challenge to have, a good problem to have. Knowing that we've got a lot of good football players. We'll go through this (Monday) and have some significant meetings to talk about it, and pick the right 53 for this team."
Check out the game action from the New Orleans Saints game against the Houston Texans in Week 3 of the 2023 NFL Preseason.