Jameis Winston will get a second crack at his former team on Sunday at the Superdome.
The Saints quarterback, whom the Buccaneers drafted first overall in 2015, would like to forget the first time he played against Tampa Bay.
Winston, having led New Orleans to four wins in their first six games in 2021, suffered a left knee injury on a tackle by Buccaneers linebacker Devin White in the Saints’ seventh game of the season and missed the rest of the year.
“Hopefully, I don’t have to relive that moment again,” Winston told reporters this week. “I’m just pressing forward and keeping my eyes focused on this week.”
Winston and the Saints (1-0) will press forward with a home opener against the Buccaneers (1-0). The Saints won last week at Atlanta thanks to the largest fourth-quarter comeback in franchise history, scoring 17 consecutive points in the final 12 minutes to win 27-26.
The Bucs got to 1-0 with a 19-3 road win over the Cowboys thanks to running back Leonard Fournette’s 127 yards rushing.
For Winston, it’s a chance to beat Tom Brady, the quarterback whom the Bucs replaced him with and who won a Super Bowl two seasons ago.
“They’re just another team,’’ Winston insisted. “I’ve got a lot of respect for a lot of those players, some of my old teammates, but, at the end of the day it’s a division game, going against the best in Tom Brady. But I don’t get to go against him. I get to go against Devin White and [linebacker] Lavonte David and [safety] Antoine Winfield and [defensive tackle] Vita Vea and [edge rusher] Shaq Barrett.’’
For Brady and the Bucs, the Saints have been a problem of late. Tampa Bay is 0-4 in regular-season games against New Orleans since Brady joined the team. In that span, Brady was intercepted eight times in those losses.
“That’s probably the thing that jumps out the most — turnovers,” Brady said this week. “They are a very physical team. I think they beat us up physically. It’s a tough, hard-nosed team. They’re very well coached.”
The Saints are led by first-year coach Dennis Allen, who was New Orleans’ defensive coordinator for the first three of those games and served as interim head coach in a 9-0 victory at Tampa Bay last December, when Sean Payton stayed home because of a positive COVID-19 test. Allen remains the defensive play caller for the Saints.
Are the Saints in the heads of Brady and the Buccaneers?
“Anytime you lose to a team more than once or twice, you try to put a finger on what they’re trying to do and what you’re doing and what you can do differently,” first-year Bucs head coach Todd Bowles said.
One element of the Saints that is better is their receiving corps, with the return of star Michael Thomas from injury. Jarvis Landry was acquired in the offseason via free agency, and Chris Olave was drafted in the first round. The three combined for 212 yards and two receiving TDs last week at Atlanta.
The Tampa Bay offensive line, which underwent a lot of offseason change, looked solid last week, with newcomers Robert Hainsey at center and rookie Luke Goedeke at left guard. Both made their first NFL starts last week and helped the running game minimize Brady’s exposure to the pass rush.
As for the relationship between Winston and White, who ended Winston’s 2021 season, the quarterback said White reached out to him after the injury last year and that there are no hard feelings.
“Me and him are great,’’ Winston said. “I can’t be mad at somebody for playing football. He felt bad for a second, but he’s a football player. He’s a great football player, so he kept going.”
Now Winston will get to keep going again.
“I’m just grateful I have this opportunity now,” Winston said. “I’m here now, healthy, and I’m ready to rock. That’s it.”