No drop in his resolve
Graham hangs in by hanging on
HOUSTON -- Just when it seems appropriate to call Daniel Graham a bust -- a word nobody likes to use to describe a first-round draft pick -- the second-year tight end does something to remind people that he has a bright future, provided he can find a cure for his recurring case of the dropsies.
The dropsies are an ailment that has killed the careers of many talented players.
You can always be a blocking tight end, but players that win the John Mackey Award given to the nation's best tight end, as Graham did at the University of Colorado, are usually the whole package. Graham can block well and has the ability to get good separation from defenders. But occasionally he'll drop the easy one.
But after dropping two on-the-money passes from Tom Brady in the first half of yesterday's 23-20 overtime win over the Texans, Graham rebounded in a big way, making what offensive coordinator Charlie Weis called "two of the biggest plays in the game." None was bigger than a 4-yard touchdown pass from Brady with 40 seconds remaining in regulation on a fourth-and-1, which tied the score at 20 following Adam Vinatieri's extra point.
If that had been the first half, Graham might have whiffed. But by this time, Graham, with encouragement from Weis, Brady, and fellow tight ends Fred Baxter and Christian Fauria, had escaped from his funk and decided to "finish the game."
Earlier on the tying drive, Graham made a 33-yard reception, finding a wide-open area over the middle on a third-and-10 right before the two-minute warning. It gave the Patriots a first down at the Houston 34.
"Those were two great plays," said Brady. "[Graham] made the one down the field and really changed the position for us. On the last one he did a great job of running on the side and cutting back to lose his defender and giving me a place to throw it. I put it up there and he made a great catch on that."
Graham also had some drops in last week's win over Dallas, but the coaching staff stuck with the 6-foot-3-inch, 257-pound target. Yesterday, that loyalty paid big dividends.
"As I've gotten a little older, I've learned there are just certain guys who don't react positively to you jumping all over them," said Weis. "When I was younger, I'd be just hammering people. He's a guy that you just have to look in his face and know that football is important to him. He's not a guy you've got to hammer because the next time he's gonna go make a play for you.
"You have to give him a lot of credit for coming back after he dropped a couple. I mean you address it, but there are different ways to address the same thing. Some guys need a pat on the back when things are going bad. Give Daniel credit here. Daniel could have shut it down when things weren't going so well and he wound up making two of the biggest plays in the game."
Graham, who finished with four catches for 53 yards, can't explain it, either. Why does he miss the gimme layups and make the clutch threes?
"I noticed that myself, too," Graham said. "I don't know why. I have no doubt I can catch the easy one, too. I think it helps me to know that Tom has confidence in me, and that gives me the confidence."
On the touchdown catch, it was certainly a play the Patriots use a lot and one that didn't catch the Texans by surprise. Safety Eric Brown covered Graham pretty well, but then Graham pushed Brown off when Brady, under pressure, was able to spot Graham and the tight end made the difficult catch.
"We've been practicing that play all week," said Graham. "We had to try to sell the run hoping the [defender] would bite on that. He didn't. I had to break away from [Brown] and Tom threw me the ball and I had to make a play. I stopped and let [Brown] go by and came back to make a play."
The catch gave Graham some redemption.
"It's easy to say you have to put it behind you, but I had to finish the game out," Graham said. "It's something I really have to focus on and finish the game out." He doesn't remember having a game where his play was so erratic. He's had games when he's caught everything thrown to him and others when he's caught nothing.
Now he's striving for consistency. His coaches want consistency, which is why he vows to return to Foxborough this week and start catching extra balls before and after practice. When you're a first-round pick, the spotlight is always on you. Everyone expects so much from Graham, especially now that the Patriots are working with a depleted receiving corps.
"I think it's a matter of concentration," Graham said.
When asked if he was sick of answering questions about his recent troubles, Graham simply answered, "Yes."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.