DENVER — After missing last week’s game against the Tampa Bay Bucs with a sprained right ankle, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was back for Sunday night’s game with the Denver Broncos.
Graham, who hurt his ankle in the game before the Saints’ bye week on Oct. 7, practiced on a limited basis all week and interim coach Joe Vitt said Friday that Graham would be a game-time decision.
After testing the ankle in pregame warm-ups, Graham was given the OK to start and he had a 13-yard catch on the first play of their second possession.
Graham finished the game with five receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Streak hits 50
Saints quarterback Drew Brees didn’t throw a touchdown pass in the first quarter for the first time this season, but he did get one on the first play of the second period.
Brees led running back Darren Sproles perfectly over the middle and Sproles snatched the ball out of the air and sped to the end zone for a 29-yard TD with 14:53 to play in the quarter.
It was the 50th consecutive game with a touchdown pass for Brees, extending his NFL record streak.
Playing the matchup
The Saints’ inactives include two surprises — strongside linebacker Scott Shanle and defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley.
While Shanle was banged up a little in last week’s game against Tampa Bay, he wasn’t included on the team’s practice report. Bunkley also did not appear on the injury report during the week.
It’s likely that Shanle and Bunkley were deactivated because the Saints utilized their nickel and dime alignments for much of the night against Peyton Manning.
The Saints opened in a nickel package with Junior Galette getting a start at left end, which necessitated the move of Cameron Jordan inside to defensive tackle alongside Sedrick Ellis.
Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Vilma earned the starts at linebacker with rookie cornerback Corey White starting at the nickel spot. When the Saints went to their 4-3 base defense, linebacker Will Herring came in on the strong side.
In addition to Shanle and Bunkley, not dressing for the Saints were WLB David Hawthorne (hamstring), WR Joe Morgan (chest), TE Daniel Graham (knee), DT Tyrunn Walker and T Bryce Harris.
The only inactives of note for the Broncos were CB Tracy Porter (illness), DT Sealver Siliga (back) and RB Knowshon Moreno.
Porter has been battling an illness that forced him to miss the Broncos’ last game on Oct. 15 at San Diego.
For the Saints, WR Courtney Roby left the game in the second quarter with a should injury and did not return. … SS Roman Harper left in the third quarter to be evaluated for a concussion but returned later in the period.
Sunday streak ends
With the 34-14 loss, the Saints’ seven-game winning streak in Sunday night games came to an end.
Six of the victories came in games televised by NBC, which had the telecast Sunday night. The Saints’ last loss on Sunday night was a 38-31 setback to the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 17, 2004.
The Saints averaged 4.2 yards per play in the game Sunday night against the Broncos, who ranked fourth in the league in allowing just 4.78 yards per play in their first six games. … The Broncos are now 18-6 after a bye since the NFL started adding them to the schedule in 1990, the second-best mark in the league in that time. … Former UL-Lafayette wide receiver Brandon Stokley was a game-day captain for the Broncos, while former LSU player Trindon Holliday returned punts for Denver. … The attendance of 76,832 was the fourth-largest home crowd in Broncos’ history.