Jameis makes Saints QB1 case with huge quarter

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NEW ORLEANS — 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 receiver Marquez Callaway against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Caesars Superdome. All in the first quarter.

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. Saints coach Sean Payton 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 and Taysom Hill.

Hill, who turned 31 on Monday, got off to a slow start but finished with his first TD pass of the preseason late in the third quarter — a perfectly placed 14-yarder to receiver 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 half.

Winston, meanwhile, was actually making his first-ever start with the Saints since there was no preseason when he first joined the team in 2020. And did he ever make the most of it.

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 he 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 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 too, since he reeled it in with one hand while being hit to the ground.

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.

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 has also 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.

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