Possibly – even likely – there are degrees to Jameis Winston's gratitude.
The New Orleans Saints quarterback admits as much. At the end of the day, he said, it's all gratitude, but it'd probably be impossible to not have just a little bit more of it as Sunday's regular-season opener against the Falcons in Atlanta approaches, providing Winston with his first opportunity to play in a meaningful game since tearing his ACL last Oct. 31 against Tampa Bay in the Caesars Superdome.
"I was talking to one of my friends about this, because he was talking about emotions and anxiety," Winston said. "And I was like, it's really just gratitude. I mean, I missed the whole season last year, so of course I'm excited. But I'm just grateful that I get another opportunity to start the season and get ready to compete."
On occasion, Winston has referenced 2021 as an entire missed season.
Noting the difference between entering this season and last, he said, "The biggest difference is I didn't play last year. I was able to play, but I got hurt."
He played in less than 6.5 games of the 17-game schedule and completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,170 yards and 14 touchdowns, with three interceptions, but suffered his injury just as he possibly had found his comfort zone in the offense and with the playbook.
Winston didn't again touch the field under game-like conditions until Aug. 26, in the Saints' preseason finale against the Chargers. The test run gave him a chance to feel out his post-injury pregame preparation.
"It was good to get a plan together, pregame-wise, with our training staff to see how we would prepare for a real game," he said. "I still thank D.A. (Coach Dennis Allen) for that, for giving me an opportunity to play in that."
Ah, yes, the plan. Winston's torn ACL gave the quarterback an entirely new appreciation for training the entirety of his body, as he explained symmetrically.
"I learned so much about my body when I had the ACL, just the importance of other parts of your body being overcompensated because you're overusing something else," he said. "The holistic body, everything about your body, you have to be able to work certain things.
"Just because my knee hurts, that doesn't mean that I need to work on my knee. I need to work my hips, I need to work my ankles. Our bodies are so symmetrical. You've got your wrists, what are your wrists on the bottom half? Your ankles. You've got your shoulders up top. What are your shoulders? Your hips. You've got your elbows. What are your elbows? Your knees. It's symmetrical and you've got to work every part."
And few teammates have been able to better relate to Winston's comeback than receiver Michael Thomas, who actually did miss all of the '21 season after playing just seven of 16 regular-season games in 2020. Thomas and Winston weren't able to develop a rapport last year, and the chemistry was a work in progress this offseason due to Thomas' ramp-up program during training camp.
"I feel like Jameis and I are very much similar," Thomas said. "Both hard workers, love to compete, love to get better, sometimes need somebody out there to stop us because we'll just work and work and work.
"The thing with him when he comes in is just having great communication, asking questions right when they come up, perfecting it. Whatever rep we get in practice, take advantage of it, ask questions right there.
"It's all about not making the same mistake twice, so we're just working on that, and just being on the same page. Building that relationship and building that trust. My goal for him is just do whatever he tells me to do and be there when he needs me."
"It just takes very good precision. Coach preaches it. He talks about precision and executing, executing at a high level. When you're on the same page, we're going. We install before practice, we know what plays are going to probably come up, what plays will happen. Just knowing that, you just take full accountability of being at the right spot at the right time. The rest, that's the whole thing about the team collaborating. So me being in the right place, it's just making his job easier."
Playing the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium won't make the job easier, but Winston will have a familial touch present. Winston was born in Bessemer, Ala., a southwestern suburb of Birmingham.
"I think it's fun that we're playing in Atlanta, because it's close to home," he said. "I think that's the biggest significance about this game. You're going to have a lot of people, a lot of Winstons in the building. That's exciting that my family gets to drive an hour-and-a-half east to come see me play."