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Seattle Seahawks' Jimmy Graham provides healthy option for Russell Wilson

By Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange
Seattle Seahawks' Jimmy Graham provides healthy option for Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham (88) stiff arms his way to a first down. File photo by Jim Bryant/UPI | License Photo

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- What Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson did on two bad legs Sunday afternoon was impressive. What tight end Jimmy Graham did 11 months removed from an injury that often ends careers might have been even more noteworthy.

Graham was Wilson's favorite target Sunday, when the 6-foot-7 behemoth had six catches for 113 yards in the Seahawks' 27-17 win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

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Graham got open at will against a Jets' defense that struggles to contain tight ends. His most impressive catches, however, were a one-handed 17-yard reception along the sideline in the first quarter and a contested grab in which he out-jumped rookie linebacker Darron Lee for a 24-yard gain that set up the Seahawks' final touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"Jimmy Graham -- he's a bad, bad man," said Wilson, who threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns despite left knee and right ankle injuries. "He can do anything."

Including coming back from one of the most devastating injuries a football player can sustain. Graham's first season with the Seahawks ended on Nov. 29, when he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee.

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A torn patellar tendon short-circuited the careers of former players such as running back Cadillac Williams and Correll Buckhalter. New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz missed the final 10 games of the 2014 season and the entire 2015 campaign after suffering a torn patellar tendon in October 2014.

But Graham not only made it back for this year's season opener, he appears to be the same player he was during his All-Pro days with the New Orleans Saints. He had just four catches for 53 yards combined in the Seahawks' first two games but has collected 12 catches for 213 yards in the last two weeks.

Graham offered a small grin when he was asked if he expected to contribute so heavily this early in the season.

"I did," Graham said. "Nobody else did."

While he's not necessarily surprised by his performance, Graham said he is gratified by it, especially after he struggled with the Seahawks prior to the season-ending injury. Graham, who had at least 85 catches in each of his final four years with the Saints and a pair of 1,200-yard receiving seasons, had only 48 catches for 605 yards in 11 games in 2015.

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"It's definitely been a hard road for me," Graham said. "I worked so hard for the last 10 months, to be here for this team and to help us win.

"It's been such a long road for me to finally be a part of what this team has going on."

-- Seahawks rookie wide receiver Tanner McEvoy had a homecoming to remember Sunday afternoon.

McEvoy got wide open behind the Jets' secondary for his first career catch, a 42-yard touchdown in the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. The Jets' home field is located just miles from Bergen Catholic High School, from which McEvoy graduated in 2011.

"To get a chance to get your first ball at MetLife and it's a doggone touchdown - that's one of those things he'll never forget," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I hope his family was all there to see it and all that and that they get to rejoice in that. That was marvelous."

McEvoy was a three-sport athlete at Bergen Catholic before committing to play football at South Carolina. He redshirted as a freshman and transferred to Arizona Western, a community college, following a DUI arrest in July 2012. After one season at Arizona Western, McEvoy went to Wisconsin, where he played 38 games at three positions - quarterback, wide receiver and safety - before signing with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent last spring.

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"Wisconsin guy, first of all," Seahawks quarterback and fellow Wisconsin graduate Russell Wilson said with a grin. "His first NFL catch, I believe it is. Coming to New Jersey. He's from New Jersey. So that's a special thing. That being a touchdown's really cool."

-- The Jets are going to sink or swim with Ryan Fitzpatrick at their quarterback. Perhaps literally.

Fitzpatrick followed up the worst game of his career - a six-interception nightmare against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 24 - by throwing three interceptions, all in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

All nine interceptions were thrown with the Jets behind, but they were in comeback mode because the Fitzpatrick-led offense has done little in the last two games. After losing to the Chiefs, 24-3, New York generated just one legitimate offensive touchdown on Sunday. Rookie Charone Peake picked up a Fitzpatrick fumble and raced 40 yards with 2:15 left in the fourth quarter.

Head coach Todd Bowles said his confidence has not wavered in Fitzpatrick, who engaged in a six-month standoff with the Jets before signing a one-year deal worth $12 million on the eve of training camp.

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The final question of Fitzpatrick's press conference Sunday had to do with his confidence, which he answered in succinct fashion.

"I'm just fine," Fitzpatrick said. "Thank you."

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick on Sunday, was far more colorful in expressing his faith in Fitzpatrick.

"I am going down in the boat with Ryan Fitzpatrick," Marshall said. "OK? You got it? So you cannot ask me any more questions about that? I am going down in the boat with No. 14."

-- The first half of the Jets' schedule is as tough as it looked back in April. The Jets are 1-3 but winless against the three teams they've faced (the Seahawks, Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals) that made the playoffs last season.

Next up: Two more 2015 playoff teams - the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday and the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 16 - both on the road.

"At times like this, you don't want to start a snowball effect and that losing streak mentality where people stop caring or something like that," Jets running back Matt Forte said. "We have a lot of games left to play and we have a lot of space for improvement. Guys want to do that."

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