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Spadaro: Brandon Graham, Comeback Player of the Year?

Dave Spadaro On the Inside 1920

UPDATE: Three quarterback sacks, four total tackles in just 29 snaps – that's called domination.

And that's the kind of game defensive end Brandon Graham had on Sunday in the 48-22 win over the New York Giants. For his performance, Graham was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week, the second time he's earned that honor – joining Eagles Hall of Famers linebacker Seth Joyner (1992) and cornerback Eric Allen (1993) to win the award twice in the same season.

Take an exclusive look at moments from Sunday's game in the Meadowlands through team photographer Kiel Leggere's lens.

He stood in front of the media in full uniform, sans helmet of course, blood on his pants, turf marks on his arms – and all smiles. That's the kind of season it has been for defensive end Brandon Graham, a perfect representation of the kind of season it has been like for the Philadelphia Eagles. Who would have ever thought, as recently as a few months ago, that Graham's three quarterback sacks in Week 14 of this season would have helped the Eagles win for the 12th time in 13 games?

"Truly, it's a blessing and you have to appreciate every minute of it," Graham said later at his MetLife Stadium locker after the 48-22 victory over the Giants. "Here I am in my 13th season doing this and we're winning and the chemistry, man, I'm telling you, it's amazing here. We're all having so much fun and everybody wants each other to have success and do well and that just doesn't happen on every team.

"It's special here with us. You have to enjoy all of it. It's special."

The return of Brandon Graham is one of the most important stories of the year for the Eagles, even if not a lot of people outside of Philadelphia talk much about it. One of the most beloved Eagles, truly, ever, Graham's place in franchise history was already secured before he suffered a torn Achilles tendon in Week 2 of the 2021 campaign. The defense sorely missed Graham, as did the locker room, but coordinator Jonathan Gannon schemed around the loss of pass-rush effectiveness without Graham and the Eagles kept the score down and the team rallied in the second half of the season to reach the postseason.

Improving the pass rush was a top, top priority for this team in the offseason. Linebacker Haason Reddick was the primary target in free agency and, boy, has he lived up to everything the Eagles hoped he would be. Reddick is a versatile, relentless pass rusher who also happens to set a tough edge against the run and, when called upon to do so, can drop back in coverage and make plays in space, too. Signing Reddick instantly made the Eagles much better rushing the quarterback – the team ranked 31st in the league in quarterback sacks last season with 29 – but then there was the matter of exactly how Gannon would use Reddick and we've seen the team's outstanding coordinator put Reddick in great position to make a lot of plays.

But how much better would the pass rush be, even with Reddick? How much better could the pass rush be? There was the expectation that Josh Sweat would take another step forward in his fifth season, and he's certainly done that. The inside pressure from Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and first-round draft pick Jordan Davis would help, too.

How about Graham? What could the Eagles realistically expect from a 34-year-old end coming off the dreaded Achilles tendon injury?

"I understand people questioning me, but when I was going through the rehab, I could tell it was going to be OK," Graham said. "I felt good going through it that I was going to come all the way back. Every step of the way felt better and better and I just couldn't wait to get back out there with the guys."

Graham has been a force this season. There were no signs in Training Camp that he would only come back partially or that he would be limited in any way. His production – 8.5 quarterback sacks, physical play against the run, 9 tackles for loss, working into the defensive end rotation seamlessly – has helped elevate the Eagles in the pass-rush game. Philadelphia has 49 quarterback sacks, best in the NFL.

If that doesn't say just about all that needs to be said about what Graham's return to form – could he be a Pro Bowl player again with 8.5 sacks? – means for the Eagles, nothing does. After the Week 3 win at Washington – a game in which Graham had 6 total tackles, 6 quarterback pressures, 5 quarterback hits, 2.5 quarterback sacks, 1 forced fumble, and a pass defensed – he was named for the first time in his career as the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

"It's everybody doing his part," Graham said. "We're all just about even in sacks, (Reddick has 10, Graham 8.5, Javon Hargrave 8, Sweat 7.5) so everybody is getting his. I feel like we're all eating."

Along with that, Graham has been every bit as vibrant and essential in the locker room, in and around the NovaCare Complex and in the community. Last week he was named the team's Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award nominee for his "excellence on the field and his passion to help the lives of others in the community."

The case could very well be made that Graham should win the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year. How many 34-year-old defensive ends recover from a torn Achilles tendon tear to play every bit as well as they have ever played?

"I just want it to keep going, you know what I mean?" Graham said. "Let's just keep going, keep winning games. Keep having fun."

Keep smiling. Graham is the leader in that category by a mile, and as he spoke to the media following the win over the Giants, clearly enjoying himself, he portrayed a man who wants this to last for as long as it can possibly last, and that he will enjoy every bit of it until the last possible drop. He is a dream player having a dream season, the perfect microcosm of what the Eagles have going on in the locker room and on the field every step and every day of this 2022 schedule.

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