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Jameis Winston vs. Taysom Hill: Is the Saints’ QB competition essentially over?

Winston had a significantly better night than Hill in New Orleans’ second preseason game

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New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston reacts after throwing a touchdown pass.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) reacts after throwing a touchdown pass in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in New Orleans, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.

Derick Hingle, Associated Press

Did Jameis Winston just take a big step toward taking ownership of the New Orleans Saints’ starting quarterback job over Taysom Hill?

While the Saints’ 23-21 win over Jacksonville on Monday night came during an NFL preseason matchup — exhibition contests come with their own expectations, and the reality teams aren’t playing starters vs. starters full time — Winston significantly outperformed the former BYU quarterback Hill against the Jaguars.

The competition to replace future Hall of Famer Drew Brees has, for the most part, been a pretty even battle between Winston, the more experienced veteran, and Hill, the dual-threat utility player. In the Saints’ preseason opener, both quarterbacks had their successes and struggles. Winston has led New Orleans on more touchdown drives in preseason play than Hill — by a 4-to-1 margin, however.

Here’s why Monday’s game, though, gives Winston the latest edge, and what appears like the inside track to the starting position.

How Winston performed vs. the Jaguars

After Hill started the Saints’ preseason opener, Winston earned the start against Jacksonville and got New Orleans on track offensively early. New Orleans coach Sean Payton said what impressed him about Winston’s night was “the explosives.”

“I thought they pressured (Jameis) on one play, and he was able to kind of quickly switch protection and get into a route for a touchdown,” Payton told reporters. “I thought there were some really good exposures there early on, and I thought we handled it well.”

Here’s how each of Winston’s three possessions went:

  • First drive: The game’s opening series was a six-play, 72-yard drive that ended with a 43-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Callaway. Winston converted the lone third down of the possession with a 9-yard pass on a third-and-4, then two plays later launched a beautiful pass down the middle into tight coverage, where Callaway pulled in an impressive touchdown grab. 

  • Second drive: New Orleans started with possession at its own 49 and quickly got into Jacksonville territory with an 11-yard run. But back-to-back false starts left New Orleans with a third-and-16, and Winston’s lone incompletion of the game on that play led to the Saints punting.
  • Third drive: Winston’s second touchdown drive was a six-play, 57-yard possession that included the quarterback converting a third down by again connecting with Callaway for an 8-yard gain on a third-and-6. Winston completed 4 of 4 passes for 54 yards on the drive, capped by his second touchdown of the night. Callaway, who finished with five catches for 104 yards, hauled in a 29-yard strike from Winston one-handed for the score. 

Winston’s final numbers: 

  • 9 of 10 passing, 123 yards, two touchdown passes, 157.5 QB rating. 
  • Three possessions (16 offensive snaps) led to 14 points.
  • 2 of 3 on third downs, did not take any sacks. 

“I’m focusing on execution,” Winston said postgame. “As long as I’m executing the right way, my eyes are in the right place, and I’m making the right decisions, I can live with it.”


New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill drops back to pass in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in New Orleans, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.

Derick Hingle, Associated Press

How Hill performed against the Jaguars

Hill entered the game late in the first quarter and quarterbacked the Saints for two quarters. While he led two scoring drives like Winston, Hill struggled more with efficiency.

Here’s how each of Hill’s six possessions went:

  • First drive: Hill was off the field almost as fast as he went on it, with a three-and-out capped by him taking a 9-yard sack on third-and-8. He misfired on his only pass attempt of the drive.
  • Second drive: It was another three-and-out for Hill and the Saints, with Hill taking a 5-yard sack on third-and-7 to end the possession.
  • Third drive: Hill got New Orleans into Jacksonville territory, but the drive stalled and the Saints turned it over on downs. Two 25-yard passes — both to Lil’Jordan Humphrey — surrounded an intentional grounding by Hill, then he threw incomplete on third and fourth downs at the Jacksonville 34, with three yards to gain for a first down, ending a promising drive.
  • Fourth drive: The Saints got the ball back with 36 seconds until halftime, and Hill quickly led them into field goal position. He completed 2 of 5 passes for 33 yards before a 52-yard field goal from Aldrick Rosas ended the half. Hill was 0 of 3 on third downs in the first half.

  • Fifth drive: Hill’s first possession of the second half was rocky, as he completed 1 of 3 passes and was nearly intercepted on second down before throwing an incompletion on a third-and-7 to end the drive.
  • Sixth drive: Hill finally got something going on his final possession, leading New Orleans on an eight-play, 72-yard drive that didn’t include any third downs. Hill completed 4 of 4 passes for 46 yards on the drive and hit Humphrey on a well-placed jump ball for a 14-yard touchdown pass.

Hill’s final numbers:

  • 11 of 20 passing, 138 yards, 1 touchdown pass, 93.3 QB rating.
  • Six possessions (31 offensive snaps) led to nine points (New Orleans missed an extra point following his TD pass).
  • 0 of 3 third downs, took two sacks, both on third down.

“It’s hard to really give you an evaluation without seeing the film but, just like any other game, there’s plays that I would like to have back,” Hill said of his game. “I think there’s some good stuff that we did and continue to build on and get ready for the season.”

Final analysis

In the Saints’ preseason opener, both Winston and Hill each accounted for an interception as New Orleans turned the ball over six times. This time, the Saints did not turn the ball over. That was a huge plus for both quarterbacks and New Orleans as a whole.

Winston was much more efficient on the night and showed more poise in the pocket, particularly under pressure. His two touchdown passes were beautifully executed, and he looked like the kind of talent worthy of his five years of experience as a starter in Tampa Bay.

Hill eventually got some points on the board, including a touchdown on his final drive, but he struggled early, and those two third-down sacks disrupted his rhythm on his first two possessions.

Neither quarterback ran the ball, which is more puzzling with Hill, who looked more like he was trying to force himself to use his arm to get out of tough situations rather than utilize his abilities as a runner.

Payton said postgame there is no timetable for choosing a starting quarterback for Week 1 of the regular season. Depending on how Monday’s performance is put into consideration, among with a variety of other factors, consider it a big win for Winston in the race to replace Brees.

“When we know what direction we are going, we will let you guys know. We’re not going try to anticipate saying, ‘Hey, it’s going to be midweek or next week,’” Payton told reporters. “That’s, I think, the best way for us to handle it. It’s kind of how we’ve always handled something like this, but I was pleased with not just the quarterbacks. I was pleased with how we played as a team for the most part.”

Until something becomes official, the focus will be on the Saints’ third — and final — preseason game, and how the two quarterbacks perform in practice. New Orleans wraps up preseason play by hosting the Arizona Cardinals this Saturday at 6 p.m. MDT.