NEW ORLEANS — James Winston couldn’t have made a stronger case for the . to become New Orleans Saints‘ next starting quarterback on Monday Night Football.
Winston completed 9 out of 10 passes for 123 yards and two deep touchdown throws that ended with spectacular catches by the receiver Marquez Callaway against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Caesar’s Superdome. All in the first quarter of a 23-21 victory.
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Saints coach Sean Payton declined to make any official announcements after the game – or announce a timetable for when he will make his decision between Winston and fellow QB contender Taysom Hill.
But the timing couldn’t have been better for 27-year-old Winston, who is trying to revive his career after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passed from him last off-season.
Payton recently told NBC Sports that he hopes to name the New Orleans starting quarterback for Saturday’s preseason final against the Arizona Cardinals — making Monday night’s game the most significant showcase yet for Winston.
“I haven’t started a football game in so long. I was so excited to get the chance to start and lead the pack, man,” said Winston, who actually made his first ever start with the Saints since no game. for the season when he first joined the team in 2020. “The rhythm was great, the offensive line was phenomenal, and we had guys like ‘Quez making plays all night long. You gotta love that.”
Winston was also quick to add, “As we all know, we have a new game next week.”
But when asked if it was important for Winston to take advantage of an opportunity like this, both Winston and Payton acknowledged that it’s important for all players – as opportunities like these are so precious during the pre-season evaluation period.
“It’s important to see them all,” Payton said. “I just finished telling you [the players] — it’s a team game, but we always update our resume. You always try 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 preseason TD pass late in the third quarter — a perfectly placed 14-yarder to receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Hill finished 11-of-20, passing 138 yards with no turnovers and no rushes. He was flagged for intentional grounder once, but also led the Saints to a field goal in the last 36 seconds of the half.
Winston completed a 10-yard pass to Callaway on the first snap of the game. Three games later, he converted a third down with a strike into tight end Juwan Johnson. He then 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 Jaguar’s rookie cornerback Tyson Campbell.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Winston’s pass traveled 53.3 meters in the air — the most air distance on a Saints pass since 2016 in the preseason, regular season or playoffs.
Winston’s second TD pass was perhaps even more impressive – a 29-yarder from Callaway down the left sideline – as he had a free blitzer in his face as he threw it. And it might have been a more impressive catch from Callaway, too, as he reeled it in with one hand while being hit to the ground.
Even Winston’s only incompleteness wasn’t such a negative point, as he showed some judgment by deciding to go back to third-and-16 after initially taking a deep look. Winston has shown progress in that area this summer after sales derailed his career in Tampa.
Prior to Monday night, the competition between Winston and Hill was arguably too close to mention yet as both QBs had done some nice things without any real knockout punches. Both 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 was also a point in Winston’s favor. He flashed his big arm a few times during training camp—a new element he could clearly bring to the New Orleans onslaught in the wake of Drew Brees’ retirement.