METAIRIE, La. Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has been battling drops all season long.
There could be a reason for that.
Graham has been battling a season-long injury to his left wrist, one that has required him to wear a brace the entire year.
Graham, for his part, wouldn't blame the wrist injury for his dropped passes. It should be noted that he has not missed a practice and has not undergone treatment for the injury all season. ProFootballFocus.com has Graham with 11 drops this season, most among tight ends and three behind New England receiver Wes Welker.
'It's pretty painful,' Graham said. 'Catches and blocking has been painful this year but that's everybody. Everybody on this team has had some issues and is having issues. I can't use that as a crutch. I'm out there on Sunday's and I've got to produce.'
Graham has caught 64 passes for 710 yards this season, turning eight of those receptions into touchdowns. A season ago, when the young tight end had his breakout performance, he had 80 catches for 1,101 yards and eight scores after 13 games.
'This time of the season, you're in Week (15), you're going to have little nicks,' Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. 'I can't give you the exact date but I think Jimmy has done a real good job this year working through his nicks.'
This season, though, teams have played him differently, jamming him off the line of scrimmage with a pass rusher before putting a linebacker or defensive back on him. With his wrist injured, he said it has been difficult to shed those blocks easily and get a freer release.
When asked if he would have offseason surgery to repair what's wrong with the wrist, Graham said that hasn't been decided yet.
'Once we see the MRIs and once we take pictures of it, then that'll be a decision I'll have to make in about three more games,' Graham said.
Still, Graham and Vitt both say the tight end's problems have had as much to do with the way teams are playing him as anything else.
'There's a lot of things he's seen for the first time,' Vitt said. 'And one of the things he's overcome is how his body's reacting to a long season. You couple that with the breakout year he had last year, and he's had no gimmes this year. He's getting banged at the line of scrimmage, he's being taken over with coverage by a linebacker or a safety, and most people are protecting over the top against him. So he's seeing different looks that he's never seen before and he's working through that. And the only thing it's gonna do is make him better.'
Added Graham, 'I'd have to say I get jammed at the line a lot by defensive ends. That has been probably the biggest difference. Teams will take a pass rusher, a guy who that's what he does is pass rush, and they'll put him in a two-point to just hit me in the face and then rush. That kind of messes up some timing. Guys don't just let me run down the field free anymore.'