The Saints appeared serious about giving kicker Derek Dimke a chance to separate himself in the race with incumbent Shayne Graham in their 22-13 defeat against the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Thursday night.
They let Dimke take three kickoffs, one extra-point attempt and two field-goal attempts they had in the first half of the final preseason game. Graham was going to handle those duties in the second half, but as it turned out, the Saints didn’t kick in any capacity after halftime.
Dimke, 24, converted the extra point and field goals while auditioning for a crucial job in a league in which games frequently come down to last-minute kicks — yet it somehow didn’t entirely inspire the confidence one would hope for.
Blame the field goal Dimke attempted from Baltimore’s 36-yard line with 5 seconds to go in the first half. It was the perfect chance for him to prove his potential and strong leg outweighed the known quantity provided by the 36-year-old Graham, whose 85.5-percent accuracy rate since 2001 is the seventh-highest all time and fifth among active players.
But Dimke pushed the 54-yarder wide right. It was admittedly long, but it was in indoors and at home. The good news for him: He was bailed out of the miscue when Ravens cornerback Tramain Jacobs ran into him. Officials flagged Jacobs, moved the ball 5 yards closer, and Dimke was true on the mulligan, improving his mark to 2-for-2 on the night (he was previously good from 23) and 4-for-4 in the preseason.
It was also his second kick this preseason of more than 40 yards, while Graham’s four makes in four tries had all been from inside 39 yards (he also missed from 33 yards on an experimental extra point).
“You don’t ever want to miss a kick, but fortunately I got hit, got another shot at it, and that’s the one that goes on the scoreboard and in the stat book,” Dimke said.
Dimke had numerous chances to seize the job at practices since training camp opened in West Virginia on July 24.
Graham missed kicks in numerous drills, sometimes while alternating reps with Dimke. On some of those occasions, Dimke made his tries and seemed to edge ahead.
But then Dimke would falter. He’d miss tries, Graham would rebound and bury his and each was back on equal footing.
All of which may have left things at a stalemate when time expired on Thursday’s preseason finale. And assuming New Orleans keeps one of the two kickers on the roster as of Thursday, it may be best for the Saints if the draw goes to Graham.
Graham has his flaws. On field goals in the playoffs, he’s a lackluster 13-of-17 (76.5 percent) for his career.
But he was also 4-for-4 in the Saints’ storybook 26-24 wildcard win in January in frigid Philadelphia, and he hit the last-second winner that night.
A Saints team that’s built to make the postseason would know exactly what it has in Graham if that expected playoff run materializes. The same is not true of Dimke, whose NFL experience is limited to making 12 of 13 field goals in preseasons from 2012-14 spent with Detroit, Tampa Bay and New Orleans.
Maybe Dimke is the 2009 version of Garrett Hartley, who in his first postseason with the Saints went 5-for-5 to help them win their lone Super Bowl title. And it’d be no surprise if coach Sean Payton — the only man to dial an onside kick before the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl — has no hesitation shouldering the risk of employing the unproven Dimke.
But it may be that Dimke is not the second coming of Hartley circa ’09. And it’d be no surprise if Payton’s staff opted for the safe choice in Graham if it stayed in-house.
“I’m confident in myself — I feel like I have a lot of experience, and I feel like I don’t lack any strength being a little bit older,” said Graham, who lamented not being able to “make plays happen out of thin air” in the second half Thursday. “I work hard, and I do everything I can to help this team out — that’s really all the things I can control.”