Roughly, Brandon Graham playing to stick around for a while
If it weren’t for what he’d already known, Brandon Graham might have lingered in the Linc Sunday, taken one more look around the locker room, maybe stayed another minute in a stadium that by then had gone quiet.
If it weren’t for what he’d experienced, and what he believes he can experience again, he would have felt a twinge of melancholy.
If the Eagles weren’t champions already, and if they had not maintained their chance to be so again with a 32-30 victory over the Houston Texans, it may have hit him that it was all about to be over. All. All of it.
A hero in Super Bowl LII, a difference-maker Sunday in a survival test, his spot in the franchise honor roll all but a given, the defensive end will be a free agent whenever the season ends. It could end in Washington, where the Eagles will play this weekend. It could end after a playoff game. It could end, as he has been conditioned to believe, on the top step of the Art Museum.
“Man, I’ve been loving it,” Graham said of his Eagles career, its ninth year ticking away. “And it’s not over yet.”
It’s not over yet, but it’s close. The Eagles cannot win the NFC East, because that’s what the Cowboys did Sunday. They can win a wild-card playoff spot, but even with a victory in Washington they will need Minnesota to lose in Week 17, at home, against the Bears. All Graham knew Sunday was that his team was 2:04 from elimination and that Nick Foles, with one play of relief from Nate Sudfeld, responded with an 11-play, 72-yard, game-winning drive, defined by Jake Elliott’s 35yard field goal at the final whistle.
All he knew is that the champions played like champions at a time when there was no other option.
All he knew was that the championship instilled something in the Eagles, a confidence, an expectation of greatness that would not easily be cleansed.
“Yep,” he said. “Especially when you keep a majority of your guys who went to the championship last year. You kind of know that it’s never over and you have to practice hard and you have to stay prepared. And I think we do a good job of staying prepared for these games. Sometimes, the outcome is the outcome. But overall, we give ourselves a chance to win every week because of the way Doug (Pederson) and those guys keep us prepared.”
They keep the Eagles prepared, and they keep them aggressive. At one point Sunday, that combination caused unnecessary stress, as with 1:42 left in the first half, Graham muscled through the Houston line and appeared to cleanly jolt quarterback Deshaun Watkins. But the officials flagged him for roughing the passer at a cost of 15 yards, and Houston was able to flip that good fortune into a go-ahead touchdown, just before halftime.
“What did he tell me?” Graham said of the ref, as if trying to remember. “He told me that I hit him in the shoulder-neck area. That’s what he said. On the hit. It wasn’t the ‘body-weight’ call. It is what it is. They made the call.” Smiling, laughing, Graham said he had some give-and-take with the officials. “We did have fun with it. We can’t control what they do. All I can do is look forward to the next play. And that’s what we did. And we came out with a W.”
The Eagles have eight of those and will need at least nine. If not, Graham’s Eagles career, which began in the first round of the 2010 draft three coaches ago likely will end. Howie Roseman could move to bring him back, but he did make defensive end Derek Barnett his first-round pick in 2017. And last year, Roseman invested a fourth-round pick on defensive end Josh Sweat.
And as for Graham, whose jarring hit of Tom Brady with 2:16 left in the Super Bowl forced a fumble and essentially sealed a championship, he has yet to have been re-recruited. But no matter what happens Sunday or beyond, he will have been cemented in franchise lore, not that he doesn’t have time to add to the story.
“I think it’s cool, because we’re hitting our stride at the right time,” he said. “All we have to do is get in. The sky is the limit on what we can do. We’re just focusing in for one week and winning. And then, we’ll figure it out for the next week.”
That’s why Graham celebrated so vigorously when Elliott swished the game-winner, extending the Eagles’ hopes, if not necessarily his own career.
“I went crazy,” he said. “It wasn’t the ‘60-yard’ crazy. But it was cool to get a W.”
Even if the Eagles do reach the playoffs, they will not have a home game. So the Linc won’t be open for pro football until next summer, when the preseason begins. At various times in his Eagles career, Graham has been dismissed as too small. At age 30, if he is not re-signed, the dropped hints will be because he was too old.
“We don’t know what the future holds, but I’m excited, because we just keep fighting,” he said. “And hopefully we can extend this thing a little more.”
With that, he turned to the locker room door. A champion, he looked forward, not back.