Saints quarterback Drew Brees may have retired, but his legacy in New Orleans looks set to continue as the Saints start the new season with Jameis Winston as their quarterback. In the final minute of his final game last season, Brees made one final pass – not of a football, but of the baton, as he handed the reins of the team to the former Buccaneer.
“Well, that moment, being able to have an entire season with Drew Brees was a dream of mine,” said Jameis Winston when asked about the moment in a news conference on March 23. “For him to put his arm around me, just give me any encouraging words after I saw the resilience, the passion, the way that he went and approached every single day.”
Winston declined to say what Brees told him, but camera footage showed the moment when the two faced each other on the sidelines during the NFC Divisional Round loss to the Buccaneers. Brees pointed right at Winston and appeared to say, “This is your team now.”
However, Winston did not officially get the nod until after an intense competition for the position against multi-role player Taysom Hill this preseason. Even heading into the team’s second preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on August 23, the battle for the position remained a toss-up between the two. That would change by the end of the first drive.
Winston opened the game against the Jaguars as Hill had started the previous game. After beginning the first drive with a series of short passes punctuated by a pair of runs by back Tony Jones, Winston stepped back over the 50-yard line to give himself room and flung the ball to the endzone.
There receiver Marcus Callaway dived for the ball as two defenders converged on him. Callaway held on for the touchdown even as the Jaguars were flagged for pass interference, and Winston all but guaranteed himself the starting role.
In a news conference on August 31, head coach Sean Payton was asked what stood out about Winston. “The number one thing is leading your offense, moving the ball, and scoring points,” Payton said. “We feel he’s got the unique skill set with his arm talent where he can get the ball downfield.”
Winston’s deep passing ability was never in question. During the 2019 season, as the starter for the Buccaneers, Winston led the league with 5,109 passing yards and threw 33 touchdowns. But he also threw 30 interceptions.
The notoriously difficult-to-learn offensive strategy of incoming Bucs coach Bruce Arians may have played a role in those turnovers; however, Winston also drew heavy criticism for his own decision-making.
Against the Jaguars, that decision-making was put to the test as two false start penalties left Winston the task of converting a 3rd and 16. In the past, Winston may have tried to force a pass. Instead, he attempted a checkdown pass to Jones.
That pass attempt resulted in an incompletion – his only one of the night – but it showed a level of restraint Winston learned from Brees. In a taped interview that aired on ESPN, Winston said Brees taught him to focus on making the right decisions in the moment rather than always trying to make a spectacular play.
“Be Bruce Wayne until you have to be Batman,” Winston said in that interview. “You don’t have to be Batman all the time.”
Feature image curtesy of David Grunfeld/Associated Press from bleacherreport.com.