Jimmy Graham helping Packers' offense find its groove

Veteran tight end earned Aaron Rodgers’ praise for performance against Oakland 

TE Jimmy Graham
TE Jimmy Graham

GREEN BAY – Jimmy Graham had perhaps his finest performance in a Packers uniform during Sunday's 42-24 win over the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field.

The beauty of it, in Aaron Rodgers' eyes, was how the veteran tight end stepped up on several critical extended plays, catching four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown in the process.

On two occasions, Graham turned off-schedule plays into deep connections on touchdown-producing drives. He caught a 29-yard pass in the first quarter by staying active near the sideline and then gained 25 on a peel into the flat that he turned up field when Rodgers rolled his way.

He capped the eight-play, 85-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown off a crossing pattern to give Green Bay a commanding 18-point lead with a little more than two minutes left in the third quarter.

"I think the balls he caught, really just one of them was a play designed for him. That's the ability that he brings is the off-schedule stuff," said Rodgers following Wednesday's practice.

"I hit him on a super-clean pocket…I hit him on a check-down and he made two guys miss. That's what you get from Jimmy. You have the playmaking ability."

Rodgers has been arguably Graham's biggest advocate since the Packers signed the five-time Pro Bowl tight end. While Graham was disappointed in how things unfolded in 2018, he developed a quick chemistry and fast friendship with Rodgers.

The shift to Matt LaFleur's scheme has been a welcome one for Graham and the rest of Green Bay's tight ends. Fellow veteran Marcedes Lewis, a renowned blocker, already has surpassed his 2018 pass-catching totals with nine catches for 119 yards.

Second-year prospect Robert Tonyan, whom Graham has taken under his wing, has been sidelined with a hip injury but flashed athleticism and natural playmaking ability with his timely 23-yard catch in Dallas three weeks ago.

Graham looks to be gaining more comfort in Green Bay's offense, as well. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end has 18 catches for 214 yards and three touchdowns, already eclipsing his two scores in 16 games with Green Bay a year ago.

The Packers turned to Graham and the rest of their skill-position players to step up during the absence of two-time Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams, who's missed the past three games with a turf toe injury.

Graham and the entire receiving corps responded against the Raiders, combining for 25 catches for 429 yards and five touchdowns to help erase an up-and-down showing for the Packers' skill-position players against Detroit five days earlier.

"New offense obviously, we've been getting better and better each week," Graham said. "Obviously '12' has been getting more and more comfortable each and every week with the system. As you can see he's dangerous.

"Hopefully we can keep improving each and every week. Really, that's our goal, to be better than last week and to keep finding our groove in this offense."

LaFleur has talked several times about finding more ways to get Graham involved in the offense. While the 10th-year veteran isn't saying no to opportunities, Graham enjoys the role he's filling in both the offense and the tight end room.

Having built a friendship with both Lewis and Tonyan, Graham points to some of his favorite moments as cheering on Lewis whenever he makes a pancake block and congratulating Tonyan on a big play in the passing game.

Confident in his relationship with Rodgers, Graham has stayed the course and was rewarded with his targets against Oakland.

"I know my time will come," Graham said. "Last week we were able to connect on some of those times. Hopefully we can just kind of keep building on that and I take hold of those opportunities when those opportunities present themselves. But I play tight end, man. That's how it is. Just trying to do my best to just stand there and not get '12' hit."

Asked about his own individual performance and how it compares to his first year in Green Bay, Graham points to the Packers' 6-1 record as his greatest source of validation.

At this point, Graham feels this team can be special and vows to do everything "to best of my ability." It doesn't matter if it's as a pass-catcher or blocker staying back to help protect Rodgers.

Coming off the best statistical performance of his 15-year NFL career, Rodgers knows the Packers are going to need more big catches and plays from Graham to keep the offense trending upwards.

"He got some opportunities and made guys miss. That's got to give him more confidence going forward," Rodgers said. "Jimmy has super-high expectations for himself and a lot of great confidence. We've got to keep finding ways to get him the ball."

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