Jameis Winston couldn’t have made a stronger case to become the New Orleans Saints’ next starting quarterback on Monday Night Football.
Winston completed 9 of 10 passes for 123 yards and two deep touchdown throws that ended with spectacular catches by wide receiver Marquez Callaway against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Caesars Superdome — all in the first quarter of a 23-21 victory.
Saints coach Sean Payton declined to make any official announcements after the game or to introduce a timetable for when he’ll make his decision between Winston and fellow QB contender Taysom Hill. Everyone is speculating on whether or not Jameis can start, even the NFL Betting has been pretty heavy.
But the timing couldn’t have been better for the 27-year-old Winston, who is trying to revive his career after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved on from him last offseason.
Payton recently told NBC Sports that he hopes to name New Orleans’ starting quarterback before Saturday’s preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals — which made Monday night’s game the most important showcase yet for Winston.
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“I haven’t started a football game in so long, I was so excited to just get an opportunity to start and lead the pack, man,” said Winston, who made his first start with the Saints, since there was no preseason when he first joined the team in 2020. “The rhythm was great, offensive line was phenomenal and we had guys like Quez making plays all night. You gotta love that.”
Winston also quickly added, “As we all know, we’ve got another game next week.”
But when asked if it was important for Winston to step up in an opportunity like this, both Winston and Payton acknowledged that it’s critical for all players, since opportunities like this are so precious during the preseason evaluation period.
“It’s important to see all of them,” Payton said. “I just finished telling [the players]: It’s a team game, but we’re always updating our résumé. You’re always trying to put your best foot forward and create that value for yourself.”
Hill, who turned 31 on Monday, got off to a slow start but ended up with his first TD pass of the preseason late in the third quarter — a perfectly placed 14-yarder to wideout Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Hill finished 11-of-20 passing for 138 yards with no turnovers and no rushing attempts. He was flagged for intentional grounding once but also led the Saints to a field goal in the final 36 seconds of the first half.
Winston completed a 10-yard pass to Callaway on the first snap of the game. Three plays later, he converted a third down with a strike to tight end Juwan Johnson. Then Winston capped the opening drive with the 43-yard TD pass that Callaway somehow caught on his way to the ground despite a pass interference penalty against Jaguars rookie cornerback Tyson Campbell.
Winston’s scoring pass traveled 53.3 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information — the most air distance on any Saints pass since 2016 in the preseason, regular season or playoffs.
Winston’s second TD pass might have been even more impressive — a 29-yarder to Callaway down the left sideline — since he had a free blitzer in his face when he threw it. And it might have actually been a more impressive catch by Callaway, as well, since he reeled it in with one hand while being hit to the ground.
“Playing receiver, we’re getting paid to catch. So if it touches our hand, we gotta do what we can to come down with it,” said Callaway, who rated the first TD as the more difficult one to come down with since “that one hurt” when he hit the turf.
Callaway, an undrafted free agent in 2020 who has been the breakout star of Saints camp this summer, said he hadn’t yet really seen the replays of his catches when he spoke after the game. But his eyes grew wide when asked if his phone was blowing up with messages.
“It’s still going right now. It’s on ‘Do Not Disturb’ right now,” said Callaway, who did take time to call his parents.
Even Winston’s lone incompletion wasn’t that much of a negative, since he showed some judgment by deciding to check down to a running back on third-and-16 after initially looking deep. Winston has shown progress in that area this summer after turnovers derailed his career in Tampa.
“I missed the easiest throw of the night,” cracked Winston, who said he was happy with his decision-making but still wants to improve his accuracy.
Prior to Monday night, the competition between Winston and Hill was arguably still too close to call, since both QBs had done some nice things without any true knockout punches. Both of them threw interceptions in last week’s preseason opener (though their receivers shared the blame in both cases).
Winston led the Saints on their only two TD drives last week while playing with the second string.
The deep ball also has been a point in Winston’s favor. He has flashed his big arm a handful of times throughout training camp — a new element that he could obviously offer to New Orleans’ offense in the wake of Drew Brees’ retirement.
Saints tight end Adam Trautman, who was carted off in the first quarter, is scheduled to undergo an MRI on his foot on Tuesday, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Initial X-rays Monday night were negative, but Trautman still was experiencing mild pain.
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