Every eyewitness account of the situation provided by players and coaches concluded that Trevor Siemian acted and played as if he belonged in the huddle, with no visible or audible evidence that he hadn't partaken of an NFL regular-season game since the second week of the 2019 season.
That was as an injury fill-in, after New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston tore the ACL and damaged the MCL in his left knee on the team's second offensive play of the second quarter against Tampa Bay.
On Sunday, when the Saints (5-2) play Atlanta (3-4) in the Caesars Superdome, it will be as New Orleans' starter.
"Trevor played well last week," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "We'll see each week. We've got a good plan we feel like this week relative to this plan. And we'll kind of go from there."
Siemian, a seventh-round draft pick by Denver in 2015 – the same year Winston was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, by Tampa Bay – will become the fifth starting quarterback for the Saints since the 2019 season.
The list includes Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill and Winston. Perhaps Siemian's path to the roster and starting lineup is most intriguing.
He was signed last season as a Covid emergency quarterback. If either or all between Brees, Hill and Winston was sidelined due to Covid protocols, Siemian would step in as a backup or, possibly, to start. The Saints saw how the improbable could become reality against Denver, in a 30-3 victory over the Broncos. Denver played the game without a quarterback – a practice squad receiver, who'd been a quarterback early in his college career, drew the start behind center – because all of its quarterbacks were ruled out after violating Covid protocols.
Siemian didn't play last season, but didn't look worse for the non-wear. He completed 16 of 29 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions, against Tampa Bay in what would become a 36-27 victory. New Orleans outscored the Buccaneers 29-20 after Siemian entered the game.
"I've had a lot of confidence in myself to play, and when it happened – I didn't know if it was going to happen or when it was going to happen, but I knew I'd be ready," Siemian said. "And here we are. I expect to play well, just like everybody else on this team."
The Saints' belief in Siemian was exhibited in two ways: He was the lone remaining quarterback active for the game behind Winston (rookie Ian Book was inactive), and on seven of the Saints' first eight offensive plays with him in the huddle, he attempted a pass.
Hill, who missed the last two games due to a concussion he sustained against Washington on Oct. 10, returned to practice this week and participated fully on Thursday. Even though he was 3-1 as a starter last season, with his two most productive games against Atlanta – 465 passing yards and two touchdowns on 45-of-60 passing, with no interceptions, and 132 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, in two victories – Siemian will make his first start since Sept. 16, 2019.
"I started a few games earlier in my career, so I think it's not really new to me," Siemian said. "It's not that foreign. It's been awhile, for sure, but I've been playing all along as if I'm going to have a chance to play. Now, whether it happened or not, I didn't know but that was my mind-set the last few years."
He said it has helped his preparation to practice with the starters.
"I think just getting a feel for guys, being in the first huddle and just kind of seeing what guys like, reading body language of guys," he said. "I haven't had a ton of reps – really, any reps – with that first group. So it's good to get those physical reps. I've been back there and it's not like I'm coming in cold or it's my first time seeing the offense and everything. But just getting the physical reps is good."