This is the cover story of this week's Gameday Magazine, which will be available at Lincoln Financial Field and local ACME supermarkets. Brandon Graham was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday after notching 2.5 sacks and five QB hits in Sunday's win over Washington. The Eagles have had a Player of the Week following each of the first three games this season – Zech McPhearson, special teams in Week 1; Darius Slay, defense in Week 2.
This is Brandon Graham in his element – seated at his NovaCare Complex locker, completely relaxed, and talking up a storm.
Always talking. Mixed in is a lot of laughter and love and generally just having a grand, old time. Brandon Graham is, indeed, the life of the Eagles' locker room party. And it is a party with Graham back in action after suffering a season-ending injury in Week 2 of the 2021 campaign, a frightening sight at Lincoln Financial Field late in the second quarter of a loss to the San Francisco 49ers that required Graham to be taken from the field to the locker room in a cart. It was a somber several minutes as the crowd, aware of the potential severity of the injury that turned out to be a torn Achilles tendon, rose and gave Graham an ovation as he waved and headed up the tunnel and out of sight.
From that moment to now, Graham has been on a mission to return to the field whole. To return to game action as the same Brandon Graham who plays with such force and ferocity and energy on the edge of the Eagles' defense, who disrupts games and who breathes life into those around him. Nothing less would suffice.
"I didn't let myself get down about the injury. Of course, I felt it when it happened and I knew that it meant I would miss the rest of the season. I was upset about that. But I just went after it in rehab," Graham said. "I had in my mind that I wanted to come back better than before the injury, so that is the way I approached every day. The recovery, honestly, wasn't what I thought it would be. I thought, 'Oh, shoot, it's the Achilles tendon and it could end my career.' But it wasn't like that at all. It wasn't like the knee injury I had before (2010 season). That felt so much harder.
"This one, I just attacked it and I felt better and better every day. By the time we were in the spring and on the field, I knew I would be all the way back. That's how I feel about the way I'm playing. I'm just being me."
Graham sure does look like himself as the Eagles prepare for Jacksonville. He is in his 13th season with the Eagles and is the longest-tenured athlete in Philadelphia. Along with that, he is one of the most beloved Eagles of all time for all of the things he has done on the field – Graham was named an All-Pro player in 2016, he was voted to the Pro Bowl in the 2020 season, and, of course, his legend was enhanced with the huge fourth-quarter strip-sack of Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII – and the relationships he has made out of uniform.
Knowing Brandon Graham is to love him.
"He lights up the room," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said.
"That's just the personality that he has – always smiling, always in an upbeat mood. You want to be around people like that and there aren't many of them out there. Brandon is one of a kind, so to have him back lifts up everybody. He is one of the leaders of this team because of the example he sets every day."
The Eagles added significant talent to the defense in the offseason after seeing the impact of Graham's loss in 2021. Prior to his injury, the Eagles played dominating football in the Week 1 win at Atlanta and through most of the first two quarters of what turned out to be a loss to the 49ers before Graham went down. Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon's group hung in there and helped the Eagles reach the postseason by limiting big plays and by keeping opponents off the scoreboard – in 10 games the Eagles limited offenses to 18 points or fewer, tied for the most such performances in the league. But they knew they needed more talent on that side of the ball, so when March rolled around and free agency opened the Eagles brought in some weapons – pass-rushing and edge-setting linebacker Haason Reddick, weakside linebacker Kyzir White, cornerback James Bradberry, defensive tackle Jordan Davis in the NFL Draft, and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson just before the regular season opened.
Those additions, along with Graham's return, set the stage for a revitalized defense. And while we are still very early in this 2022 season and there are inevitable ups and downs to come, the Eagles have shown signs of significant defensive improvement. White tipped a pass that Bradberry intercepted and returned for a touchdown in the opening-day win in Detroit. The Eagles came together in Week 2 and shut down a potent Minnesota offense to win a Monday night game. Last Sunday, Graham paced the defense with 2.5 of the team's nine sacks – the most by an NFL team this year to date – in the 24-8 domination of the Washington Commanders, earning him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for the first time in his illustrious career.
Today, the challenge is again significant against an up-and-coming Jacksonville offense led by promising second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
"Every week, man, I'm just loving going out there and having some fun and playing this game again," Graham said. "I missed playing so much last year. Not being with the guys, it was so hard. I'm just so happy being here and being part of this thing. I feel we have a chance to do something special. That's the goal, to be special."
The Eagles have a much better chance of being special with Graham on the field leading the way, keeping everyone up, chattering with opponents, showing everyone what it's like to play with an edge, and to understand that it is fun out there. It's a game, after all, and Graham is going to enjoy every second of it on and off the field.
"Honestly, he doesn't stop talking," says defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, Graham's neighbor in the locker room. "It's entertaining. It kind of rubs off on everybody. His personality is contagious."
Everyone agrees, and it just comes naturally for Graham, in his element as the season marches along.