The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — Brandon Graham and Terence Steele, the Cowboys’ right tackle, had been jawing at each other a good bit Sunday. “We had some words,” Graham said. “Told him, ‘You’d better watch out.’” Graham is 35 and in his 14th NFL season — all of them, of course, with the Eagles. He is an old man of the game, but experience has its privileges. He can talk trash to Steele, who is just 26, because he is Brandon Graham, and Brandon Graham never stops talking when he is on a football field.
That’s Graham in a nutshell, really. He has never stopped in his career with the Eagles — never stopped talking or rushing an opposing quarterback or chasing down ballcarriers — and he never stopped Sunday in that heart-thumping 28-23 Eagles victory Sunday. He chased after Dak Prescott on a key two-point attempt in the fourth quarter, forcing Prescott to step out of bounds before he could stretch the ball across the goal line. He chased Prescott down for a sack late in the game, then combined with Jalen Carter to take Prescott down again on the next play. Brandon Graham is 35 and in his 14th season, and the oldest player on both teams kept coming and coming like he always does, like he always has.
“To have that longevity and play like he does,” linebacker Zach Cunningham said, “man, it looks like he’s been playing six, seven years out there, for real.”
The Eagles needed every ounce of Graham’s energy in this one, needed those three big plays from the guy who, almost six years ago now, made the biggest defensive play in the franchise’s history. The Eagles couldn’t cover CeeDee Lamb, and they couldn’t stop committing penalties, and it took Graham and Josh Sweat, with those key fourth-quarter sacks, to keep the Cowboys out of the end zone — keep them from completing a comeback that would have changed the complexion of the NFC East and the Eagles’ season.
Had Dallas won, the Eagles could have found themselves heading to Kansas City on Monday, Nov. 20, in second place in their division. Now they go into their bye week with an 8-1 record and, in effect, a three-and-a-half-game lead on the Cowboys — two-and-a-half in the standings, the tiebreaker in the head-to-head matchup. All because Graham, as much as anyone, prevented them from melting down faster than the Cowboys did.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up,” he said.
It would have been easy for him to be less than fully prepared to meet this moment Sunday. Last season, he was on the field for 43% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. Ahead of Sunday’s game, he had been on the field for 29% of their defensive snaps. Against the Cowboys, he got just 18 snaps … but maximized them. His reps and his role, at least so far, have been declining. Brandon Graham is 35 and in his 14th season, and human nature never changes. It would have been easy for him to slack off, to pout, to be less than the professional he has always been.
That is not Brandon Graham. It never has been. Not when he was a first-round pick in 2010. Not in his early years here, when he was fighting through injuries and position changes to meet those first-round expectations. Not when the Eagles were terrible at the end of the Andy Reid and Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson eras. Not this season, when Graham hasn’t played as much.
“In the beginning, it was a little difficult,” said Graham, who after racking up a career-high 11 sacks last season, had just half a sack this season before Sunday. “The rotation was a little different. But I know I’m on a pitch count. They’re trying to make sure I’m here for the duration of the season. We’ve got a big stretch coming up. It’s going to be physical these next three, four weeks before we see Dallas again.”
They see Dallas again at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 10, and who knows how many times Terence Steele will replay in his mind the play on which Graham beat him, the way that Graham outsmarted him? They’d been chirping at each other all day, and Graham understood what Steele’s strategy was: He kept “jumping out” on him, firing out of his stance to the right to force Graham to take a wide looping route on his rush to try to get to Prescott. So Graham surged inside on Steele, but when he did, he stumbled and nearly fell before he got to Prescott.
“It was just cool that Dak didn’t throw that thing right away,” he said. “I thought I lost him for a minute.”
The Brandon Graham play that everyone around here remembers, that no one around here will forget, was the strip sack of Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII. But there was another play, later in that game, that Graham remembers just vividly: the final play of that Super Bowl, when Graham could have sacked Brady again, looked like he would sack Brady again, except Brady swiveled his hips and escaped Graham’s grasp and heaved a Hail Mary that caused everyone around here to hold their breath.
Prescott tried to do the same thing Brady did, tried to twist away from Graham. He couldn’t. Brandon Graham is 35 and in his 14th season. Experience has its advantages. Prescott went down. The Eagles held on. In their most important game so far this season, the man who has been here the longest and been through the most was younger than anyone.
“I’m going to miss this when it’s over,” Brandon Graham said, “but I’m going to enjoy it, too, while it’s here.”