New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham isn’t the kind of talent who requires extra motivation.
But that’s exactly what Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis provided the Pro Bowl tight end on the ninth play of the Saints first drive during Thursday night’s 28-10 loss to New Orleans at Bank of America Stadium in front of a sold-out crowd of 73,663.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees dropped back and forced a pass in the direction of Kenny Stills, but had the throw deflected and intercepted by Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards.
As Edwards took off down field, Davis targeted an unsuspecting Graham with a vicious block that left the Saints leading pass catcher flat on his back and holding his head.
“That block came before the ball was even tipped, you know?” said Graham, who picked himself up off the turf and made his way to the sideline following the play.
“That wasn’t a block, that was a hit and it seemed like that was intentional.
“Early in the game they were trying to come after me,” Graham continued. “Even in my routes, I was just getting hit – literally getting hit. So, I’ve got to protect myself better. It definitely got me going and sparked a fire underneath me.”
When the Panthers ensuing possession stalled and the team was forced to punt the ball back to New Orleans, Graham – who finished the night with a Saints-high seven receptions for 83 yards and a score – was right back on the field, hurdling old friend Roman Harper for a 19-yard gain.
At the time, the reception was the longest on the day for Brees, who targeted the six-foot-seven-inch 265-pounder five times in the first half (with four of the targets coming after Davis’ initial block).
“I just need to play more emotional,” said Graham. “I think early I wasn’t playing emotional enough – at least for me. I think I need to bring it that way on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and in practice. And when I do that, I think it adds something not only to my game, but it helps spur our offense.”
Graham entered Thursday at less than 100-percent after injuring his shoulder on Oct. 5 against Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Doctors originally predicted the 27-year-old would miss two-to-three weeks, but he was back on the field Oct. 19 against the Detroit Lions.
Graham – served mostly as a decoy in the game and didn’t record a catch – but was back to his normal self for the Saints’ 44-23 win over Green Bay this Sunday (where he caught five passes for 55 yards and a TD).
On the final play for the first quarter – a seven-yard reception – Graham and Davis got tangled up again – literally, with Davis’ helmet becoming hooked inside Graham’s.
This time, Graham responded by hauling in a one-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the first half to put New Orleans up 14-0.
As part of Graham’s celebration, he hit his head on the bench. Asked about the response, he seemed a bit embarrassed the reaction was caught on national television.
“That’s just me probably letting out a little frustration,” he said. “We’ve been tested in so many ways this year and there have been a lot of people that have written us off. That was more of, just getting out some frustration that’s been on me for quite awhile now.”
Graham added two more receptions – one of which went for a game-high 27 yards – in the second half as the Saints pulled away.
The win snapped a six-game regular-season road skid for Graham and the Saints.