For a third straight game, Jimmy Graham found himself heavily involved in the Seahawks' passing game, and for a third straight game, Seattle picked up a victory, this one a 26-24 come-from-behind effort against the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons in front of 69,071 fans in Week 6 at CenturyLink Field.
The tight end led all Seahawks receivers in the victory, catching six of the nine balls thrown his way for 89 yards, including a long gain of 25 in the second quarter. The impressive performance came after Graham made six grabs for 100 yards and a touchdown in Seattle's Week 3 win over the San Francisco 49ers and after he recorded six catches for 113 yards in the team's Week 4 win at the New York Jets. Had Graham notched 11 more yards against Atlanta, he would have become the first Seahawks player ever to have 100-plus yards receiving three games in a row.
"The guy is playing great," said Seattle head coach Pete Carroll. "He's playing great. Three solid weeks of back-to-back-to-back big factor in the games."
The stretch of big games for Graham carries even more significance when taking into account the uncertainty that surrounded his health entering this season. Just as he was seemingly becoming a big part of the offense in his first year with Seattle, Graham suffered a torn patellar tendon that required season-ending surgery. The setback was serious enough that it put his 2016 season-opening status in question, but after a rigorous rehab schedule Graham made it back in time, and at this point in the season has "never been better," Carroll said.
"When watching him this week, after the week off, he's never been better," Carroll said. "At any time last year, he's never been as physically fit as he is right now. He's just sharp and razor-edged, and boned up. He looks great. He's a little bit thinner than he's been, and he looked fast as heck in practice this week. He knows it, too. He just continues to play great football. Love him."
Against Atlanta, four of Graham's six catches went for first downs.
"That's the stuff we talk about all the time," Graham said. "Third-down conversions, or moving the sticks. When you can do that, especially with a high-powered offense like Atlanta, it's going to be to your advantage. We've got to keep doing that, keep improving on that and keep moving the sticks."
Graham said he was able to take advantage of a familiar-looking Falcons defense headed by former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who's worked as Atlanta's head coach since the start of the 2015 season.
"I just saw some weak spots in the zone and was able to kind of exploit those on some plays," said Graham. "[Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell] was making the calls and I mean some of those I just knew I was going to be open because it was zone. They kind of mimic our defense in ways and we practice against that defense every day. So we were able to exploit those at an opportune time."
Part of Graham's uptick in production has had to do with his growing rapport with Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who finished Sunday's win over the Falcons 25-of-37 for 270 yards passing.
"He's a playmaker, man," Graham said of Wilson. "He believes. He believes in all of us. We could be down by 30 and the man just has an unshakeable belief that this team is going to pull through. I've never seen anything like it. He's so positive in some of the worst moments, but I love him for it, I really do."
Added Wilson of his rapport with Graham: "We've been great honestly all summer, just transitioning into now. He can do so many great things and he's such a physical player. He can catch any football you throw to him, so you just trust him, throwing the ball to him. That's all our receivers, all our tight ends. It's a luxury to have, that's for sure, to have that many talented guys that are coming up and making plays and can do so many great things.
"In terms of Jimmy, he brings the energy on the field when he makes a big play, so you love that too. Hard work pays off and when you continue to put the hard work in, great things happen."
Game action photos from the Seahawks' 26-24 win vs Falcons at CenturyLink Field.