NEW ORLEANS – This one was for Jameis Winston.
One by one, New Orleans Saints players paid homage to their fallen quarterback in the aftermath of a 36-27 victory on Sunday that keeps them in the thick of the NFC South race.
Winston was carted off in the second quarter with a left knee injury that Saints coach Sean Payton called “significant” – which threatens to sideline him for weeks or perhaps the rest of the season amid reports that indicate ACL damage.
“I told him at halftime, we’re going to go out and win it for him,” said Saints defensive back P.J. Williams, who sealed the win with a 40-yard touchdown return of his interception of a Tom Brady pass in the final two minutes.
Williams said it was uplifting to see Winston reveling in the victory afterward – a viral video showed the quarterback executing some dances moves while clutching his crutches during the postgame locker room party – yet he acknowledged that it is sobering that his former Florida State teammate is facing this setback after winning the competition to succeed Drew Brees.
“This was hard,” Williams said. “He worked so hard this offseason, just this season. That’s one of my best friends. To see him go down, that’s tough.”
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Winston was hurt while scrambling out of the pocket, dragged down by linebacker Devin White on a play that drew a 15-yard penalty for an illegal horse-collar tackle. Winston’s knee bent awkwardly and, after trying to bounce up from the turf, he collapsed. He limped off the field with the help of trainers and then soon after was carted from the sideline to the locker room.
Shortly after the game, Payton said he couldn’t be definitive about the extent of injury.
“I think it’s significant,” he said. “He felt something and he’s on crutches now. I don’t want to say until I have a chance to talk with the doctors. When he went up and then had to go back down, you were a little concerned.”
With backup quarterback Taysom Hill sidelined due to effects from a concussion, the Saints (5-2) won with third-string journeyman Trevor Siemian. Payton said the immediate objective was to beef up protections for Siemian as the Bucs, even before Winston was hurt, blitzed more frequently than they had in previous matchups.
Siemian passed for 159 yards with a touchdown. He also didn’t commit a turnover, which was huge in a game when Brady committed three giveaways that led to 17 points for the Saints.
Like others, Siemian expressed remorse for Winston.
“This win was for him,” Siemian said.
Winston earned a game ball, Payton said, after setting the tone to beat his former team. Winston passed for 56 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 40 yards. His 20-yard third-down scramble in the first quarter moved the chains on a 75-yard drive that culminated with a beautiful 16-yard scoring strike to Tre’Quan Smith.
That Winston’s spirits didn’t seem crushed after the game – evidenced by his participation in the locker room dance party – provided a clue as to the respect he’s earned from teammates.
“That’s Jameis,” running back Alvin Kamara said. “He’s a character.”
Kamara went on to laud Winston’s passion, fire and leadership skill.
“You hate when a guy like that goes down,” Kamara said. “It’s like why does bad things happen to guys like that.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.