Jacksonville – Jameis Winston, a Heisman Trophy winner and national champion at Florida State and the No. 1 overall draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2015, became the 33rd player to start at quarterback for the New Orleans Saints when he took the first snap from center Erik McCoy under a hot Florida sun at TIAA Bank Field on Sunday, Sept. 12.
It would have been difficult enough just to be the player to replace the legendary Drew Brees at quarterback, but the 27-year-old Winston had several other added difficulties in the season opener against the Green Bay Packers.
- The Saints have been displaced by Hurricane Ida for more than two weeks, practicing in Texas instead of Metairie and being forced to live in hotel rooms.
- TIAA Bank Field provided few of the advantages of the cacophonous Caesars Superdome.
- Star receiver Michael Thomas started the season on the shelf as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery.
- No. 2 receiver Tre'Quan Smith missed the game with a hamstring injury.
- Aaron Rodgers, the three-time league MVP, was the opposing quarterback.
But Winston was more than up for the challenge as he led the Saints to a dominating 38-3 season-opening victory over the Packers, the top NFC seed in the 2020 playoffs, throwing five touchdown passes. The 6-foot-4, 231-pounder finished 14 of 20 for 148 yards with those five touchdown passes and ran the ball four times for 38 yards in front of 35,242 fans.
He got plenty of help from star running back Alvin Kamara, reserve Tony Jones Jr. , tight end Juwan Johnson and a rugged Saints defense that picked off Rodgers twice and shut down the vaunted Green Bay offense. Kamara ran the ball 20 times for 83 yards and caught three passes for eight yards while Jones had 11 carries for 50 yards.
Winston completed his first pass, a 14-yarder to Marquez Callaway and led the Saints to scoring drives on their first three possessions as they took a 17-3 halftime lead. The Saints' first drive ended with a 44-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas, the second ended with a 3-yard pass from Winston to Kamara and the third ended with a 1-yard scoring pass on fourth down to Juwan Johnson (the first of his career). The final drive of the half went 80 yards in 14 plays, eating up 10 minutes of the second quarter.
The Saints' dominated possession so much that Blake Gillikin didn't attempt the first punt of his career until 6:11 was left in the third quarter (it was a 45-yarder downed at the 5-yard line).
The New Orleans defense forced Rodgers to play off his back foot as defensive end Marcus Davenport sacked him in the first half and applied consistent pressure all game. Rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo intercepted him midway through the third quarter to end a Packers drive and safety Marcus Williams grabbed a bomb from Rodgers and returned to the 12-yard line, setting up an 8-yard scoring pass from Winston to Chris Hogan, his first score as a Saint.
Following a fourth down stop by the Saints defense, Winston threw his fourth touchdown pass, an 8-yarder to Johnson, his second of the game and his career. Winston ended the Saints' scoring by hitting receiver Deonte Harris with a 55-yard scoring bomb down the left sideline with 10:46 to play. Winston is the fourth Saints player to throw for five touchdowns, joining Brees (10 times), Billy Kilmer and Aaron Brooks. It was the second time in Winston's career he's thrown for five touchdowns.
Rodgers finished 15 of 28 for 133 yards with those two interceptions before being replaced by backup Jordan Love with a little more than 10 minutes to play. Rodgers' passer rating was 36.8. The Saints ended the game with a sack-fumble of Love. Defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon came up with the hit and Kaden Elliss recovered the ball.
The Saints will fly back to the Dallas area Sunday night and begin preparations for next Sunday's game at the Carolina Panthers (1-0).
The New Orleans Saints host the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL Season in Jacksonville, FL.