Jimmy Graham: Star TE Must Play for New Orleans Saints to Win

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2012

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 30:  Tight end Jimmy Graham #80 of the New Orleans Saints runs after a reception against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 30, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Everybody knows, almost to a hackneyed degree, that the NFL is a game of inches. But those inches aren't always measured in yards gained and lost. Sometimes, it's the inch that causes an injury, the interstice where one man's knee, arm or ankle happens to be, that defines an NFL season.

So is the case in New Orleans, where, according to Larry Holder of The Times-Picatune, star tight end Jimmy Graham is questionable for a Week 7 tilt with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And fair or not, the contretemps that led to Graham rolling his ankle in Week 5 could very well cost New Orleans a shot at redeeming their 2012 campaign.

After losing their first four games this season, it's now or never for the 1-4 Saints. Not only are they coming off the momentum of their first win, they're also coming off the convalescence of a perfectly timed bye week. If they want to make a run for the playoffs, it has to happen now. In that respect, Sunday's match with Tampa Bay is a must-win.

Unfortunately, should Jimmy Graham not play, Sunday's match with Tampa Bay is also a won't-win.

The Saints aren't exactly oozing alternative weapons this year. Gone are the days where Robert Meachem or Jeremy Shockey could step in and pick up the slack of an injury. The Buccaneers and their (admittedly weak) secondary will be geared up on stopping Marques Colston and Lance Moore, forcing the likes of Devery Henderson or Greg Camarillo to win the game for them.

If Drew Brees is the engine that drives the Saints offense, Jimmy Graham is the wheels. An engine––even an Italian-made super engine like Brees––can't move an automobile as efficiently without its wheels.

It might not even move at all. Much like the Patriots, whose record-breaking offense was unbearable to watch sans a healthy Rob Gronkowski in the Super Bowl, the Saints are a different (and dangerously worse) team without Graham stretching the field.

This is scary because Tampa's not as bad as their 2-3 record would seem to indicate. All three of their losses came against quality NFC East opponents, and none were by more than a touchdown. Furthermore, they're riding the residual momentum of a dominant Week 6 victory over Kansas City––a team New Orleans couldn't beat at home with Graham in the lineup.

Long story short: Tampa isn't a powerhouse, but it's, by no means, a cupcake. If Graham can't play, the Saints will be fighting an uphill battle. They already have one of the league's worst defenses to compensate for; they need to offense to fire on all cylinders.

Some starry-eyed Saints coaches are holding out hope after Graham's limited return to practice, but according to Evan Silva, ESPN's Adam Schefter isn't having it:

He's currently being referred to and treated as a game-time decision. If that decision goes the wrong way, it'll be hard to see the Saints turning this cursed season around.