How Eagles' Brandon Graham overcame pair of injuries in Super Bowl to sack Tom Brady

Brandon Graham’s legendary strip-sack of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady came despite two leg injuries.

Brandon Graham’s strip-sack of Tom Brady with two minutes-and-change left in Super Bowl LII pretty much guaranteed that he will never have to pay for a drink in this city for the rest of his life.

After listening to the defensive end describe the adversity he overcame to power past Patriots right guard Shaq Mason and punch the ball out of Brady’s right hand to help preserve the Eagles’ historic 41-33 victory, you might want to throw in a lifetime supply of lobster tails and New York strip steaks.

Graham played the entire postseason with a “significant’’ right high-ankle sprain that he suffered against the Oakland Raiders on Christmas night, which eventually needed surgery last month.

High-ankle sprains typically are a six-week injury. Thanks to a meaningless final regular-season game against Dallas and a first-round playoff bye, Graham got three.

He came back and played an astounding 90 percent of the defensive snaps in the Eagles’ 15-10 divisional-round win over Atlanta, 79 percent in their 38-7 win over Minnesota in the NFC Championship game, and 68 percent against the Patriots.

But there’s more. He also tweaked a hamstring against the Patriots,

“I think I hurt that because I was protecting my [injured] ankle,’’ he said Thursday. “I was overcompensating and pulled it a little bit. I had to roll it out.

“But it was the Super Bowl. It was all or nothing. My mindset was — you’ve got to keep going. I kept telling myself to try not to feel it. Put some Icy Hot on it and keep going.’’

Camera icon MICHAEL BRYANT/ Staff Photographer
Eagles’ defensive lineman Brandon Graham tracks down Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during Super Bowl LII.

The hamstring healed after the season, but the ankle did not. His willingness to play hurt caused additional damage.

“After the season, they told me to take a month off [and see how it felt],’’ he said. “I did. It felt like it was good. But then I started running and doing stuff, and it felt the way it did before.

“They had to go in and clean it out. There was stuff they needed to tighten up in there. They told me it would probably take about three months [to heal]. It was May 1 when I had the surgery. So hopefully, by [training] camp, I’ll be up and running. Hopefully, I’ll come back like a machine.’’

Graham is still on crutches, but he said he’ll be getting rid of them next week. He’s been rehabbing at the NovaCare Complex during the team’s OTAs.

“I don’t want to put a timetable on it, but I’m ahead of schedule,’’ he said. “I’m excited to be here with the boys and give any leadership I can while they’re out there [practicing].

“My No. 1 goal is to be ready for the [regular] season. Week 1.’’

The Eagles’ Super Bowl victory, and Graham’s important role in it, has made it easier for him deal with the surgery and rehab.

“Winning that game, getting that sack, it meant all of the stuff I pushed through wasn’t for nothing,’’ he said. “It makes the rehab easier. Because we’re getting that [Super Bowl] ring next week, and I want another one.

“It puts a chip on my shoulder and motivates me to want to be a part of something great again this season.’’

How much longer Graham will be with the Eagles is an interesting question. He turned 30 in April and is entering the final year of the four-year, $26-million deal he signed with the team in March 2015.

He had a team-high and career-high 9½ sacks last season. He also led the team in tackles for losses (16), and his 49 quarterback hits/hurries were the most by an Eagles edge-rusher.

But with a tight cap situation that is going to get even tighter once quarterback Carson Wentz gets his second NFL contract, the Eagles might be reluctant to re-sign a 30-year-old defensive end to a long-term, big-money deal.

Camera icon TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Eagles’ defensive lineman Brandon Graham tackles Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during Super Bowl LII.

If he was playing for a 6-10 team, Graham might be miffed at the Eagles’ disinterest in giving him a new deal right now. But they aren’t a 6-10 team. They are the defending Super Bowl champions.

“You always want to be secure,’’ Graham said. “But I’m OK with whatever. Next week, we get those rings. If we didn’t have the team we have, then I would say, ‘Let’s worry about getting security.’

“But we have a great team to do it again. I’m hoping to be a part of it, because we have a good chance to go back-to-back.

“However it goes, I know I’m 30 years old, and I understand this is a business. I have to keep showing them that I can do it and go out on my terms.’’

Graham feels his best is yet to come.

“I feel double digits [sacks] is calling my name this year,’’ he said. “I need to slow down when I come free, like the last play of the game against the Patriots.’’

On that play, Graham lined up at left end and beat right tackle Cameron Fleming to the outside. He got his arms on Brady, but the Patriots quarterback broke free and threw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone, which fell incomplete.

“He kind of shimmied me off,’’ Graham said. “And that’s because I was running too fast. Sometimes, you’ve got to slow down. I feel that comes with experience. I mean, I’ve got a lot of experience, but sometimes you get so happy when you see him right there. You have to tell yourself to slow down.’’

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz lined up Graham both inside and outside last season. He was lined up at tackle on his strip-sack of Brady.

It’s uncertain whether the arrival of Michael Bennett, who was acquired from Seattle in a March trade, will have any impact on how much Graham lines up inside. Bennett, like Graham, can play inside or outside. But Schwartz also used Vinny Curry that way. Curry was released about a week after Bennett arrived.

Bennett has not attended any of the Eagles’ OTAs. He is expected to be at next week’s mandatory minicamp.

“I’m curious to see how we’re going to do it,’’ Graham said. “It’s not a bad problem to have. We can switch off, depending on whoever is in the game. Sometimes, we’ll just say, ‘You go inside, and I’ll go outside this time.’ I think it’ll work like that.’’