ARLINGTON, Texas — For a split second Sunday, Jimmy Graham thought he was back on the basketball court.
The New Orleans Saints’ tight end, who just three years ago turned to football after a high school and college basketball career, instinctively went after a loose ball when teammate Marques Colston was stripped by former LSU star Morris Claiborne in overtime.
Graham out-hustled safety Eric Frampton to the ball and managed to scoop it up at the Cowboys’ 2 to bring in Garrett Hartley for a 20-yard field goal that gave the Saints a 34-31 overtime win in Cowboys Stadium.
Graham managed to make the recovery even though he had just returned to the field after dislocating his right ring finger while making a 7-yard catch on third-and-3 from the Cowboys’ 41 to keep the drive going.
He said he didn’t even think about the finger, which was popped back into place on the sideline by a team doctor and taped up, when he started scrambling for the ball.
“It felt like a loose ball on the basketball court,” said Graham, who had an up-and-down day with two drops sprinkled in with seven receptions for 88 yards. “I had to go down and get it. I’ve been diving on hardwood since I was a little kid, so it felt like being back in the gym.”
The difference was this time he got a turf burn instead of a floor burn.
“But I’ll take it,” a smiling Graham said.
Colston, who also had a tough day despite catching 10 passes for 153 yards, certainly appreciated it.
“Oh definitely, he saved my butt,” Colston said when asked if he thanked Graham. “Even with the win, it’s personally going to leave a sour taste in my mouth because I can’t do that. He bailed me out.”
Earlier, Colston had two drops and a fumble that tumbled out of bounds.
“You never want to put the ball on the ground,” he said. “Any time it’s in my hands, I know I’ve got the team’s hopes and chances of winning in my hands. Luckily, Jimmy was hustling on the play and was able to get that last one back.”
Graham said he was standing flat-footed nearby, getting ready to celebrate with Colston when Claiborne yanked the ball out.
“I always tell Colston that me and him are the 1-2 punch,” Graham said. “He sets them up, and I finish them. Tonight, I finished them.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees said he was happy to see Graham chasing the bouncing ball, that took a crazy bounce forward and wound up 22 yards from where Colston lost it.
“I was chasing after it, and I was watching Jimmy,” Brees said. “I said, ‘If one guy can get this thing, it’s Jimmy.’ It was like he reverted to being the enforcer on the basketball court. He was in the paint, and he was muscling the guy around, boxing him out.”