GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jimmy Graham showed off a healthy shoulder ... and he brought back his touchdown dunk, too.
The New Orleans tight end provided relief for worried Saints fans while grabbing two touchdown passes, including the winning 1-yard catch on fourth down with 3:10 left in Sunday night’s Pro Bowl.
If there’s such a thing as bragging rights in this exhibition, they belong to Graham and Mark Ingram, whose Team Irvin claimed a 32-28 victory over Saints teammate Drew Brees and Team Carter despite Brees’ two touchdown passes.
Graham, who was slowed for much of the 2014 season with a strained right shoulder, caught Matt Ryan’s pass to put Team Irvin ahead. He then immediately took off for the crossbar.
And there he revived his touchdown celebration, curtailed by penalties and $30,000 in fines in the preseason and regular season. The NFL banned the practice after Graham bent a goalpost in Atlanta in 2013.
He did the same thing after taking in Matthew Stafford’s 6-yard pass for a score in the second quarter.
“I really wanted to catch one here, because this is I guess the only place I can dunk without a flag,” Graham said. “But you know, the league called down and told me not to hang on it, so I didn’t. Maybe they’ll change the rule in the future, and I’ll be able to just dunk it like that. For me, that made my entire week.”
Graham wasn’t penalized because the Pro Bowl is, after all, a meaningless game played at less than full speed.
Even so, Graham’s performance could ease fears that his shoulder problem would linger and potentially require offseason surgery. Graham also caught a 23-yard pass in his third Pro Bowl.
“It made a big difference, just having some rest,” he said.
When asked whether his performance would rule out surgery, Graham said, “It should, which is really exciting.”
Brees put up impressive numbers in his ninth appearance, completing 13 of 21 passes for 163 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown pass to Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson and a 10-yard TD to Greg Olsen of Carolina.
Brees was intercepted by Miami’s Brent Grimes in the end zone in the third quarter.
Ingram got plenty of work in his first Pro Bowl, rushing 11 times for 72 yards, including a 24-yard run to the 1-yard line that set up a touchdown.
Former LSU star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made his mark, as expected. The New York Giants rookie’s diving 48-yard catch from Stafford in the second quarter was one of the game’s highlights.
“Stafford put it out there for me,” Beckham said. “I just had to make the play.”
Beckham, on Team Irvin, was one of three ex-LSU players in the game. Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson got to play on his home field along with Buffalo defensive end Kyle Williams for Team Carter.
Brees squared off against Ingram and Graham thanks to a second-year format that scrapped the traditional AFC-NFC matchup and instead calls for players to be drafted.
Brees was taken by Cris Carter. Ingram and Graham were drafted by fellow Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin.
The NFL has tinkered with the Pro Bowl after a lack of effort and participation put the game in jeopardy a few years ago. Sunday marked the second time the game has been played in the Super Bowl-hosting city instead of Honolulu.
But despite narrower goalposts and unique rules — such as possession changing at the end of each quarter — it was a slog at times. Fans booed less than 2 minutes into the game when DeMarco Murray of Dallas seemed to stop running at the same time defensive players gave up tackling him following a 6-yard gain.
“You don’t have hardly any time to get timing down or anything else,” Brees said. “So much of what you’re doing out there is street ball.”
Still, the game was a reward for the players, many of whom who will stick around in Arizona through next Sunday’s Super Bowl.
“I’ll be here, doing a few things,” Brees said. “Listen, I’m a fan of the game of football. It’s no fun to not be playing in it. But the teams that are playing in it certainly are very deserving.”