BY Steve Rudman 11:00AM 12/05/2017

TE Graham re-emerges as red zone nightmare

TE Jimmy Graham did next-to-nothing as a scoring threat in his first 31 games as a Seahawk. Now he’s the hottest red zone player in the NFL.

Jimmy Graham has nine red-zone touchdowns this season. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

In Seattle’s 24-10 upset of the six-point favorite Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night at CenturyLink Field, TE Jimmy Graham had a mere three catches for 26 yards, but continued to be QB Russell Wilson’s favorite target near the goal line. Graham snagged an 11-yard TD in the first quarter and has TDs in four consecutive contests.

But the bigger picture involves Graham’s last eight games: He has nine touchdowns. In Graham’s first 31 games as a Seahawk, he had eight.

As the late, great Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray might have said, this is the equivalent of a comatose patient suddenly leaping off a stretcher and chasing nurses down the hall.

During that 31-game stretch, Graham rarely was targeted by Wilson, leading to criticism of both Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell: They either didn’t know how to utilize Graham’s skills or simply didn’t care to try, so bent were they establishing a running game without Marshawn Lynch.

Critics even suggested that Graham’s acquisition from New Orleans for C Max Unger in 2015 was a bust, and that the Seahawks should trade him for anything they could get. That talk reached a crescendo in the days before the NFL trade deadline in October, which just about coincides with Wilson/Graham going off.

Graham’s nine red zone touchdowns (seven inside the 10-yard line) lead the NFL by two over Philadelphia TE Zach Ertz. If Graham ultimately leads the league in red zone TDs, he would become only the second tight end in the past 25 years to do that twice. Graham also led with 11 in 2013 while with the Saints. New England’s Rob Gronkowski led in 2010 and 2011.

Even if Graham doesn’t lead the league, he has a solid chance to accomplish a feat no other tight end in the Super Bowl era, including Gronkowski, has managed: Twice reach double figures in red zone touchdowns.

These are the most in a season by a tight end since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 (RZ TD=red zone touchdowns):

Year Player Team RZ TD Skinny
2004 Antonio Gates Chargers 12 8 Pro Bowls, 3-time first team All-Pro
2011 R. Gronkowski Patriots 12 Led NFL with 17 touchdowns
2009 V. Shiancoe Vikings 11 Had 9-year career with Giants, Vikes
2013 Jimmy Graham Saints 11 Scored NFL-high 16 TDs
2015 Tyler Eifert Bengals 11 Never more than 2 in any other year
2015 Jordan Reed Redskins 10 Spent time at both TE and wide receiver

Graham’s nine are also the most in a season by a Seattle tight end, with four games remaining. John Carlson (2009) had seven. Graham’s six last year rank third.

Wilson No. 1 on this list

In addition to hitting Graham with an 11-yard TD pass in the first quarter Sunday night, Wilson threw a one-yard TD to Tyler Lockett and a 15-yard TD to J.D. McKissic. The three touchdown passes helped tie Atlanta’s Matt Ryan for third on the list of most passing TDs in the first six seasons of a quarterback’s career.

Ryan had 153 between 2009-13. Wilson has four games remaining in his sixth season. It’s highly unlikely that Wilson will catch No. 2 Peyton Manning, who had 167 TDs. No way will he approach Dan Marino, who tossed 196.

Wilson already is the leader in another, and perhaps more impressive, category: Most games with three or more touchdown passes and no interceptions in the first six years. Wilson has 16 such games, including Sunday night vs. the Eagles. The list:

Years Quarterback Team No. Best Game
2012-17 Russell Wilson Seahawks 16 5 TDs, 0 INTs vs. Pit, Nov. 29, 2015
1983-88 Dan Marino Dolphins 14 5 TDs, 0 INTs vs. Was, Sept. 2, 1984
1992-96 Brett Favre Packers 12 5 TDs, 0 INTs vs. Chi, Nov. 12, 1995
2000-04 D. Culpepper Vikings 11 5 TDs, 0 INTs vs. Dallas, Sept. 12, 2004
2001-05 Tom Brady Patriots 11 4 TDs, 0 INTs in 3 games
2009-13 Matt Ryan Falcons 11 4 TDs, 0 INTs in 2 games

Wilson’s pass to McKissic with 7:29 remaining to play pushed his fourth-quarter total this season to 15 against one interception. Wilson’s 15 last-period TDs are tied for first in NFL history with Eli Manning, who had 15 for the 2011 New York Giants (also six interceptions).

Wilson’s fourth-quarter passer rating this year is 134.1. Only two other quarterbacks have final-period ratings above 100: Drew Brees, 119.5, and Ryan, 100.1.

And finally, the ultimate illustration that the run-first era in Seattle is over: Wilson leads the NFL with 442 pass attempts (four more than Tom Brady’s 438). No Seahawk has led the NFL in that category since Jim Zorn had 439 attempts in 1976, the first year of the franchise.


  • osoviejo

    Fun read, thanks!

  • It’s only Sports

    That last paragraph says it all doesn’t it? No Seahawk QB has led the league in pass attempts save for one. My Left handed man Jim Zorn in 1976! Southpaw Jimmy flung 439 that year when disco was king and offenses were more wide open than they are in the 18th year of this century. Wilson now has 442 so he already has broke yet another team record in most passes thrown single season.
    With a Quarter of the season still to go(4 games)its probable RW will heave 500+. He would only have to launch 15 or so per game (actually 14.8). to reach that milestone. He has been averaging almost 40 in a game.
    I saw Zorn start for this team as a Senior in high school, He had to fling the rock out of necessity as an expansion franchise with very little run game but a few receivers who could catch. Steve Largent and Sam McCullum both had 4 TDs that year. Steve Raible had one TD Catch. Those 3 receivers match Jimmy Grahams total of 9 in 2017.
    In fact that team had two wins(Won in Florida vs their Tampa expansion brother and at home vs Atlanta) and scored just 13 TDs via the air. Jimmy would end up with that total if he catches one a game to finish out 2017.
    This has been a special season with more to come! Ask Jim and even Zorn would probably tell you much more. Go Hawks!

    • Matt Kite

      Feeling superstitious. Had to knock on wood after you wrote RW will heave 500+ passes. Only if he finishes the season in one piece. But yeah, it’s been fun to watch.

      • It’s only Sports

        Usually I say Go Hawks on the last sentence in the post…try a little bit of reverse logic and allow the Go Hawks in the front post.
        As far as Superstition and RWS pass total?
        That would be a mere 15 passes per game.
        Can he do it? Of course he can!
        Will he?Of course he will as Jimmy Graham will break the TE pass catching record for most in a single season. Knack …..Viele Knack! ! ! !
        Not to be confused with the Knack whose American band hits included My Sharona
        You do have a valid point Matthew.
        But it is true….with 58 passes available should he as you eloquently pointed it out make it through SIE SEASON Wunderbar ist es ein season und eins fraggen ein piece…he will have gotten to 500 passes. Bully on him if he does and his big over size gloves make it intact. Man those are Deisem big hands!
        Long way to get to ….yeah it really has been fun to watch!!!!!!!