1. Ready for the regular season:
It's been a long road back for New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston from a torn left ACL suffered last Halloween vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The rehab from that injury has gone so well he has participated in OTAs, minicamp, and all of training camp, missing about a week due to a right foot sprain suffered on Aug. 8. The only real hurdle that Winston had not cleared was going against an opposing defense, since he did not participate in team drills in the joint practices up in Green Bay last week. Well Friday night in the Caesars Superdome, the final box was checked. Winston started the game with the rest of the first team offense (sans receiver Michael Thomas) and engineered a nine-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a Mark Ingram one-yard touchdown run. Winston was a perfect 4 for 4 on the drive for 59 yards including a 15-yard strike to receiver Jarvis Landry, in which he stepped up in the pocket, took a hit while he was throwing, and still delivered the ball accurately to a sliding Landry for a first down (a serious candidate for Play of the Day). Winston mentioned postgame how grateful he was to have the opportunity to get back on the field again after the injury, and with just a 15 days left until the regular season in Atlanta, he passed the final test with an A plus.
2. Merritt SZN:
What a week it's been for Destrahan High product Kirk Merritt. It started last Friday night in Lambeau Field in Green Bay, when he raced to a 59-yard kickoff return setting up a Wil Lutz 59-yard field goal at the end of the first quarter. After the game, the coaches approached Merritt about a position switch, from receiver to running back, looking to maximize his talent and enhance his chances to make the final 53-man roster. After a week of practice where he basically took all the reps as a running back, he reverted back to a wide receiver, snagging four catches for 32 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown from quarterback Ian Book early in the third quarter. Merritt mentioned postgame how it was a "surreal moment" for him as his parents were sitting in section 343, where they had season tickets in the Dome since he was 6 years old until he was in high school. The real question now is has Merritt done enough to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster. To his credit, after a very solid training camp, the last seven days he has done everything asked of him from the coaches to earn a very serious look.
3. Play of the Night: The aforementioned Winston throw to Landry, was going to get my original vote (with an endorsement from senior writer John DeShazier), just for the sheer significance of it from Winston's perspective of getting back on the field. However, early in the second quarter, the vote had to be changed. With Andy Dalton now in at quarterback, the Saints played a third-and-seven from their own 28-yard line. Dalton (who had not thrown an incompletion in his preseason snaps) appeared to have his first as his threw to Tre' Quan Smith down the left side 20 yards downfield. Smith extended fully, and as he hit the ground, the ball lurched forward about 8 yards in the air, then tipped by Chargers defensive back JT Woods and into the waiting arms of receiver Marquez Callaway who turned and ran (then jogged) the final 48 yards into the Girod Street end zone for an apparent miraculous touchdown. The officials originally ruled the pass incomplete, blowing the whistle (and the play dead) after ball appeared to hit the ground. Saints Coach Dennis Allen challenged the ruling successfully, as Smith's hand was actually under the ball and popped it up in the air after making contact with the ground. Unfortunately the touchdown did not count (and it should have) due to the whistle blowing, but the completion did stand officially as a 24-yard reception to Callaway. Also unfortunately, that was the last play of the night for Smith who injured his right shoulder on the dive attempt and did not return to the game. Officials are told not to blow the whistle just in case of unusual situations that may arise and to let the play run its course, but alas, it's preseason for them as well.