METAIRIE, La. - Over a span of 13 seasons and 157-plus games, Shayne Graham rarely felt more comfortable than he did Saturday night with three seconds, 32 yards and a swing of his foot away from either a Saints win or a loss.
His motion was true and the ball’s flight took it darn near the middle of the uprights, sending New Orleans into the NFC divisional round of the playoffs with a 26-24 win over Philadelphia, the franchise’s first ever on the road.
And to think, nearly four weeks ago, he was sitting on his couch and not on an NFL roster.
Not that he ever questioned that he’d be back in uniform again.
“It’s one thing to know when I’m home working out on my own,” Graham said. “I knew I had the talent, drive and ability. It was just a matter of knowing where it was going to be and I didn’t give up home.”
Turns out, Graham would be called to New Orleans (12-5), which finally cut ties with long-time kicker Garrett Hartley.
Coach Sean Payton gave Hartley every chance to remain the Saints’ kicker. Two misses against St. Louis, however, made the decision a must.
Saturday night in frigid Philadelphia, that choice looked divine.
When asked about Graham’s night, Payton said, “Obviously it was exceptional. It was fantastic in a big spot. Every kick he hit was clean. Obviously, in a playoff football game, those things matter.”
Even without the game-winning kick, Graham was great.
His three previous kicks kept the Saints in the game. He drilled field goals of 36 and 46 yards in the first half. His 35-yarder in the fourth quarter pushed New Orleans’ lead back to six.
But when he trotted onto the field with a wind chill of about 19 degrees and a stadium full of fans yelling to get in his head, none of it bothered him.
“It was actually probably one of the most comfortable feelings I’ve had probably in my whole career,” Graham said. “For some reason I didn’t feel any ounce of hesitation or fear or anxiety. It felt comfortable.”
He has made a friend in quarterback Drew Brees in short time.
“He has played a lot of football, he has made a lot of big kicks,” Brees said. “Love his preparation throughout the week, just his mindset. Obviously came up big tonight. Man, it doesn’t get any bigger than that.”
Saturday marked Graham’s sixth postseason game and he’s now 13 of 15, the only blip on his record an 0-for-2 night in Cincinnati’s January 2010 loss to the New York Jets.
But Graham isn’t worrying about those kicks at this point.
“None of my past kicks matter,” Graham said. “There’s probably a lot of people in one former city where I used to play for and they probably don’t like my record in the playoffs with them.
“But I had a great year with Houston and also a great year with New England in the playoffs but now it’s all about this year and the playoffs are just getting started.”