Jimmy Graham's shoulder injury hurting Saints' O

Jimmy Graham is coming off one of the worst performances of his career, dropping a career-high three passes and failing to reel in two more that were broken up as they hit his hands last week.

Although Graham hasn't been the same since his early October right shoulder sprain, coach Sean Payton is not allowing any excuses on the heels of the New Orleans Saints' embarrassing loss to the Carolina Panthers.

"We've got to be able to handle some balls that are thrown our way," Payton said this week, via ESPN.com. "And sometimes it's going to be tight, and sometimes it's going to be bumped. That's part of the deal."

Graham's inability to fight for contested balls and lunge for errant passes has been similar to that of Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who is playing through a torn triceps.

The Saints have been tight-lipped about the particulars of Graham's injury, but there are signs that it is more serious than originally reported.

Graham acknowledged a week ago that he's still managing the pain "every day" and that the shoulder "has really held me back sometimes."

During the broadcast of the Week 10 game versus the San Francisco 49ers, Fox Sports sideline reporter Pam Oliver revealed that Graham was getting a maximum of four hours of sleep per night due to the pain in his shoulder.

The All-Pro tight end is no stranger to lingering injuries. His consistency has taken a severe blow due to a 2012 season-long wrist injury, a 2013 torn plantar fascia and the current shoulder sprain.

In effect, Graham has been half as productive while battling through injuries.

At peak strength over the past two years, he has averaged eight receptions, 104 yards and a touchdown per game. Unable to beat double teams and fight through traffic at the catch point, that average has dropped to 4.5 catches, 52 yards and 0.8 touchdowns while playing in pain.

Much like Tom Brady's reliance on Rob Gronkowski, Drew Brees' fortunes rest on Graham's ability to dominate week-in and week-out. It's no coincidence that the Saints' offense has been hit or miss when Graham isn't in monstrous goal-post dunking form.

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