Mixed results for OT Armstead, K Graham

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints will have their season wrap-up media interviews this afternoon. So stay tuned for updates.

Also, I’ll do my film studies from Saturday’s season-ending 23-15 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the coming days. But first – my quick thoughts on two performances that stood out for better and worse in that game: offensive tackle Terron Armstead and kicker Shayne Graham.

Both players were essentially auditioning for full-time jobs over the past four weeks, after coach Sean Payton thrust them into the starting lineup in Week 16. I think it’s safe to say that Armstead lived up to Payton’s expectations, and that he will certainly enter 2014 as the projected starting left tackle. Graham’s status, meanwhile, is a lot more questionable.

Armstead appeared to have a terrific game against the Seahawks to the naked eye. And Pro Football Focus said he was perfect in pass protection with zero pressures allowed. The rookie from Arkansas Pine-Bluff was solid over his final three games after a rough start in Week 16 at Carolina. He showed off the athleticism and strength that made him such a hot draft prospect. And more importantly, Armstead showed poise and confidence -- even after his early struggles. He certainly looks like a guy with a high ceiling. And as NFL folks always say, the leap from Year 1 to Year 2 is always the biggest.

Graham, meanwhile, was far from perfect, missing both of his field goal attempts from 45 and 48 yards. It’s hard to crush Graham for his performance since weather was obviously a huge factor. Both kicks were into the wind. And as video evidence showed, the laces were turned inward on his first kick. But obviously that’s not a great lasting impression for Graham to leave if he wants to stick in New Orleans long term.

Honestly, I do think Graham has a chance to come back. As bad as he was Saturday, he was even more clutch the week before with four made field goals at Philadelphia. And he seemed like a cool-headed, experienced veteran who could handle the pressure as well as any other kicker. The Saints have obviously lived through a lot of highs and lows at that position over the years, so they might want to just stick with a veteran. But it’s possible they’ll go looking for a different one this offseason. And they have already signed one young kicker, Derek Dimke, to a futures contract to add competition.

“You know, I could lay all those excuses out there, but I’ll never be one to let those be my defining moments for something I didn’t perform on,” Graham said after Saturday’s game. “It hurts. I don’t think anyone feels worse for my situation than I do. I hate not making the kicks when the team needs it. It’s just something that will motivate me. It’s going to be hard just to forget about it. … I hate it for everyone that I wasn’t able to make those kicks.”

When specifically asked if weather was a factor, Graham said of course it was. He said it’s important to kick it harder into the wind -- which is likely what caused him to pull both kicks too far to the left.

“I knew I wasn’t going to leave that one short. I hit it hard. I just didn’t put it between the yellow posts,” Graham said. “It’s just a matter that you’ve still got to execute. If it was easy, everyone would do it. My job as a professional athlete is to make those kicks, no matter what the situation is.”