But there was no triumph in the 36-27 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Winston left the game in the second quarter after a horse-collar tackle by former teammate Devin White, which led to him awkwardly planting his foot in the turf.
Winston would eventually learn that he had torn his left ACL and damaged his MCL. In that moment, as multiple teammates came into the injury tent to check on him, he was oblivious to the severity of the injury.
“No, of course not,” he said, when asked if he knew his season was done. “I tried to get back out there.”
Instead, it was quarterback Trevor Siemian who took over for the rest of that Halloween game while Winston was placed onto a cart by then-Saints left tackle Terron Armstead and running back Alvin Kamara and driven to the locker room.
The win was sealed after defensive back P.J. Williams intercepted quarterback Tom Brady‘s pass and returned it for a touchdown, and Winston was seen on video dancing in the locker room afterward, waving his crutches around as he celebrated with his teammates.
“He definitely had high spirits,” Williams said. “He was in there celebrating with us after the game, laughing and having a good time. It’s definitely a different trait. A lot of people wouldn’t be like that.”
An extended outing against the team that took him with the first pick of the 2015 draft would have to wait another year, but come Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox), he will get his chance.
Winston doesn’t particularly like reliving the memory of his injury but is hopeful for a similar outcome in Week 2 against a division foe.
“I was just rooting for us to win, and we won,” Winston said. “So that excitement was more important as a team [than] my injury at the time. The show goes on. I was hoping for a miracle MRI result, but it didn’t happen.
“But again, this week is about us competing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I’m here now, healthy and I’m ready to rock. That’s it.”
The Saints have played the Buccaneers five times (four times in the regular season, once in the playoffs) since they signed Winston prior to the 2020 season.
Winston has played in three of those games, combining for 31 snaps, eight pass completions and two touchdowns. He has yet to get a full game against them but said he didn’t look at this matchup as unfinished business.
“This whole year … was unfinished business. Right? My goal is to finish every year, and I didn’t do that,” Winston said. “They’re just the next team in the lineup that we gotta be prepared to and ready to play — ’cause they’re a really good team.”
Winston spent five seasons in Tampa but was never able to take the franchise to the playoffs, establishing only one winning record as a starter (9-7 in 2016).
“I would never disrespect my teammates. I love my teammates,” Winston said. “But I wish I could have took them to that level that happened the next year. I still get motivated by that. And I still, I don’t think about it much. … That’s something that I wanted to build and to see it happen really made me more hungry.”
Winston downplayed his emotions last year when preparing for his first start against the Bucs as the starter, and he has similar sentiments this year.
“They’re just another team,” Winston said. “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 his teammates and coaches know it probably still means more.
“I don’t want to speak for him, that would be unfair of me,” coach Dennis Allen said, “but I know if that was me, yeah, it probably would mean a little something extra.”
Winston has mentioned multiple times that he’s grateful to be playing after fighting to come back from the knee injury. Winston had setbacks this summer with a foot sprain and is currently listed on the injury report with a back issue but didn’t appear to be held back by physical issues against the Falcons in the season opener.
He looked sharp in the second half Sunday of the Saints’ 27-26 win. After a slow start, the Saints were able to erase a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Winston threw for 213 yards in the quarter, eating up large chunks of the field on passes to wide receiver Jarvis Landry and connecting with Michael Thomas, who was also coming back from injury, for two touchdowns. It was a glimpse of what they might be capable of after struggling on offense last season, where it took him four games to break the 200-yard passing mark.
The Saints will have their work cut out for them offensively against a team that easily beat the Cowboys, 19-3, in Week 1. The Saints are 4-0 in the regular season against the Buccaneers since Winston arrived. All of those wins have come against Brady, who replaced Winston, but their last outing, a 9-0 win in Tampa without Winston, left much to be desired offensively.
Winston and the Saints would like to prove they’ve rebounded from last year, when they ranked 28th in total offense and 19th in scoring offense. If that perception is changed against his former team, all the better.
“I’m sure he’s looking forward to it,” Williams said. “He might have his own inside thing, but he’s a professional. Every game, he’s going to attack it the same way.”