Graham: From unemployed to playoff hero

When Shayne Graham was sitting at home last month, hoping for a phone call that would put him back to work, he insisted that he still envisioned himself making game-winning kicks in the playoffs like he did for the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night.

“I just didn’t know what colors I would be wearing,” said the 13-year veteran, who was incredibly clutch for the Saints in Saturday’s 26-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

He made all four of his field goals in a game the Saints won by just two points.

“When I was home working out on my own, I knew I had the talent, drive and ability,” Graham said. “It was just a matter of knowing where it was going to be. And I didn’t give up hope, and I knew it would be somewhere. Even though it happened late, it happened here, and I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity.”

Graham nailed the game-winning 32-yarder as time expired. But all of his kicks were pressure-packed in a close game -- including the 46-yarder he made before halftime to cut the Eagles’ lead to 7-6 and the 35-yarder he made midway through the fourth quarter to give New Orleans a 23-17 lead.

Needless to say, the Saints made the right choice when they selected Graham to replace struggling kicker Garrett Hartley three weeks ago.

“I thought it was obviously exceptional,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of Graham's performance. “It was fantastic in a big spot.”

Graham, 35, was just as clutch in the playoffs last year, making all six of his field-goal attempts for the Houston Texans. But the Texans opted not to re-sign him this year. Graham then signed with the Cleveland Browns but didn’t win the job in the preseason.

He briefly signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an emergency backup option earlier this season -- but he wasn’t used. So he spent almost the entire season out of football for the first time in more than a decade.

Graham said he got comfortable with the Saints right away, feeling “like I’ve been adopted into a great family here.” And he said he felt about as comfortable as he ever had heading into Saturday night’s game.

“For some reason, I didn’t feel one ounce of hesitation, fear or anxiety,” Graham said.

It probably helped on some level that Graham had such recent playoff success in Houston. But Graham said that didn’t enter his mind.

“None of my past kicks really matter. There’s probably a lot of people in one former city where I used to play for, and they probably don’t like my record in the playoffs with them,” said Graham, referring to an 0-for-2 performance in a playoff loss with his longtime former team, the Cincinnati Bengals, after the 2009 season.

Graham is now 13-of-15 in his playoff career with the Bengals, Patriots, Texans and Saints.

“But now it’s all about this year,” Graham said. "And the playoffs are just getting started, and tonight felt pretty good.”