Jimmy Graham’s debut season with the Seahawks is over.
Following Seattle’s thrilling 39-30 victory over Pittsburgh, Coach Pete Carroll announced the Seahawks’ prized March acquisition has an injury to the patellar tendon in his right knee. Graham will have season-ending surgery.
“We’ve loved Jimmy Graham coming to our team, and we’re very grateful that he’s been a part of it. We’re going to miss the heck out of him the rest of the season,” Carroll said.
With 13:36 left in Sunday’s game, Graham’s right leg caught awkwardly in the end-zone turf amid double coverage on an incomplete pass. Carroll and a team doctor immediately rushed to Graham, and the day’s only hush fell over an otherwise raucous CenturyLink Field-record crowd of 69,055. Wilson joined Carroll and the doctor on a knee over the fallen tight end. Graham hopped gamely onto a motorized cart with an air cast over the majority of his right leg.
“To lose Jimmy today is a heartbreaker,” Wilson said, “because he’s such a great football player and a great person — and has become a great friend, too.”
Wilson was the first Seahawk to call Graham after the team traded for him. He flew to Florida, blowing off a voluntary team minicamp, to be with Graham in May after a close friend he considered a second mother passed away.
The 6-foot-7 Graham’s season ends with 48 catches for 605 yards in 11 games. Those are the lowest totals since his rookie year with the Saints in 2010, when he’d yet to become a full-time starter. His two touchdown catches this season were a career low.
The Seahawks signed him to improve a red-zone offense that was 20th in the NFL with a touchdown rate of 52 percent last season. Instead, Seattle got worse inside the 20 with Graham, last in the league down to 28 percent in TD rate for much of this year.
Wilson, Graham and the Seahawks heard howls of “Why don’t they use Jimmy Graham more?” There was the loss at Green Bay in which he had just one catch, or the loss at Cincinnati when he had just three.
Yet he’d been emerging with 17 catches in his last 3 1/2 games. His jump-ball catch that he tipped to himself over Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell in the third quarter for 36 yards set up Thomas Rawls’ 1-yard touchdown run that got Seattle within 21-20. It was exactly the type of play for which the Seahawks traded two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger and a first-round draft choice.
Graham had four catches for 75 yards against the Steelers.
Luke Willson takes over as the lead tight end for the final five games of the regular season, beginning Sunday at NFC Central-leading Minnesota (8-3) — and, the Seahawks hope, the postseason. Willson has 12 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown in 10 games. His only reception Sunday was for 12 yards down the left hash marks on the play after Graham got hurt. That set up Jermaine Kearse’s 9-yard touchdown catch that put Seattle ahead 26-21 early in the wild fourth quarter.
Carroll didn’t give a timetable on the recovery and rehabilitation time that awaits Graham, who turned 29 this week.
“The expectations with Jimmy? I think he’s accomplished those,” Wilson said. “Have we wanted to throw more touchdowns? Of course. We also run the ball extremely well down there (near the goal line), too. It’s a happy medium. I think he’s stepped up. Just watch the games, the catches he makes, the big first downs. All the plays, all the energy he brings.
“I think, ultimately, what he’s brought to us — and I know he’ll continue to bring it, whether he’s hurt or not, no matter the circumstances — he’s a guy that’s going to love each guy.
“He’s a winner. That’s what we have in him.”
Just not anymore this season.