Turnover-free play of Jameis Winston has New Orleans Saints off to encouraging start | Marcase

John Marcase
Special to The Town Talk

In hindsight, maybe New Orleans' 26-7 loss at Carolina wasn’t so bad after all.

New Orleans improved to 2-1 Sunday, winning at New England, 28-13, for the first time in more than a quarter century.

Yes, this is not the same Patriots team that won six Super Bowls with Tom Brady as their quarterback, but they do have the same coach in Bill Belichick. The best news for Saints fans, though, is it appears quarterback Jameis Winston is definitely not the same quarterback he was during his career in Tampa Bay.

Winston, who was the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, became expendable in Tampa after throwing 44 interceptions in his final two seasons with the Bucs, including 30 in 2019.

Admittedly, three games are a small sample size, but thus far, Winston has thrown two interceptions and seven touchdowns.

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He was phenomenal in the season-opening 38-3 win over Green Bay, passing for five touchdowns. In truth, he and the Saints were likely not as good as they may have appeared in the whipping of the Packers, just as they likely were not as bad as they appeared in getting embarrassed one week later against Carolina, 26-7.

So, where are they? Closer to the performance against the Patriots and less so against the Panthers.

The Saints need to be a team that relies on defense and provides an offense that can score in the upper 20s on a consistent basis with Winston earning the trust of coach Sean Payton.

Will Winston ever be another Drew Brees? That is asking a lot of anyone.

Brees is a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He retired after last season with practically every NFL career passing record. Admittedly, Brady will own them before he is through, but Brees provided the Saints with 15 years of stellar quarterback play, even the past two years when he could no longer physically throw the ball down field.

Winston has physical abilities Brees never had.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) reacts after a loss to the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium.

The beginning of his pro career was sidetracked by Tampa exchanging coaches and offensive coordinators like George Steinbrenner changed managers when he owned the New York Yankees. Winston played for three different coaches and four offensive coordinators with the Bucs.

Lost in the emphasis about Winston’s penchant for tossing interceptions is this: only one quarterback in NFL history threw for more yards in their first five seasons than Winston.

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Peyton Manning passed for 20,618 yards to Winston’s 19,737. Third is Dan Marino with 19,422.

Here is another stat of note. Winston was intercepted 88 times in his first five seasons, eight more than Marino tossed and 12 fewer than Manning.

Never heard much about Peyton or Marino throwing too many picks, did you?

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) celebrates after an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Winston provides the Saints a much better opportunity to win than does Taysom Hill, and truthfully, a better chance than Brees if he had returned.

Winston is doing this without receivers Michael Thomas, who is not scheduled to return until late October, and Tre’Quan Smith, who is out indefinitely.

Also, the Saints spent 28 days away from New Orleans due to Hurricane Ida. They finally returned home after beating the Patriots. A 2-1 record is not a bad start to the season.

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Yes, the loss to Carolina was humbling, but the Panthers are 3-0 and new quarterback Sam Darnold is playing like the Jets expected when they took him third overall in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Wonder if former LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady, Carolina’s offensive coordinator, has anything to do with that?

The Panthers should take advantage of a weak schedule and remain in the NFC South hunt until December when they face a three-game stretch of the Bucs, Saints and Bucs to close the season.

The Saints’ schedule is much tougher with games against Seattle, Dallas, Buffalo and Tennessee in addition to both division matchups with Tampa Bay left. Thomas could return in time for the Monday night matchup with the Seahawks.

Should Winston continue to make good, sound decisions and trust Payton’s play-calling, there is no reason why the Saints won’t be in the postseason once again.

John Marcase is a former assistant managing editor and sports editor of The Town Talk. He writes a weekly column.