Jameis Winston's would-be statement game ends in mid-sentence
He was flourishing against a fierce Bucs pass rush, with smart passes and - surprisingly - sleek running. Then, before you could say redemption, Jameis Winston's start against his former team was finished.

Making his first start against the team that drafted him with the first overall pick in 2015, the Saints quarterback had to be carted off the field after badly twisting his left knee on a horse-collar tackle by Bucs linebacker Devin White early in the second quarter Sunday. The NFL Network reported that Winston suffered an ACL injury.

After the Saints' 36-27 triumph, he got a game ball from coach Sean Payton, who said he cried when he later saw Winston enter the locker room on crutches. "This win was for him," said backup quarterback Trevor Siemian, who was solid (16-of-29, 159 yards, one touchdown) in relief of Winston.

"I just feel for the guy, I love him so much. Just being around him … he's got this infectious personality. You're just freaking gutted when you see anybody hurt, but watching him be hurt was tough."

Before having his season imperiled, Winston - not re-signed by Tampa Bay after tossing 30 interceptions in 2019 - was sparkling before a raucous Superdome audience in a matchup he had relished.

He had completed 6 of 10 passes for 56 yards, including a 16-yard scoring pass to former UCF star Tre'Quan Smith on third and 7 to tie the score at 7 in the first quarter. He also had run for 40 yards, including a 19-yard scramble up the middle to set up his touchdown throw.

He was injured on the following possession, when White - who remains close friends with his former teammate - took him down after Winston had scrambled from a collapsed pocket and rolled to his left. "I went up, tapped him on the head and said, ‘Man, I hate this happened to you, man, because you were playing good ball. Just praying for you,' " White said.

"Jameis is a good guy. He's a great guy. I want to put emphasis on that. All last year, when (the Saints) were playing and we were playing, he was texting. … Even when we won the Super Bowl, he was one of the first texts, like, ‘Congratulations, man. I wish I could be a part of that, but y'all deserve it.' "

Even on crutches, Winston, in his second season with New Orleans, was bent on being part of Sunday's victory celebration. In the game's immediate wake, video surfaced on social media of Winston dancing in place with his crutches in the locker room, displaying the effervescent swagger that made him both popular and polarizing in nearly a half-decade in Tampa Bay.

"That trait of being able to tune in to a game while it's on," Payton said, "you don't know what the score is and you watch the body language of the quarterback. I think that's an important trait. … Jameis is one of those guys that's that way. Glass half full, sees the positives in adversity. … But man, I'm glad we were able to win it."

Joey Knight, The Tampa Times, published 1 November 2021