The New Orleans Saints spent 45 minutes looking lost, misguided, adrift. Quarterback Jameis Winston was befuddled; new head coach Dennis Allen looked overwhelmed. The Saints wandered into the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons down double digits.
Of course, they won — this is Falcons-Saints, where weirdness reigns — but which part of this 27-26 game reflected the Saints' true form? Are they the addled team of the first three quarters, with an offensive line unable to withstand a gentle breeze? Or are they the precise assassins of the fourth quarter, moving with speed and grace to score 17 unanswered points to vulture a victory right out from under the Falcons?
The first game of the post-Payton/Brees era for New Orleans provided reason for concern, reason for hope ... but since it ended in a win over hated Atlanta, all is right for the Saints for the moment.
This much is clear: when he's on, Winston is a thrilling playmaker, able to drive his team downfield in efficient fashion and utilize Saints weapons both new and old — from rookie Chris Olave to returning star Michael Thomas to newcomer Jarvis Landry. When he's not, he looks as lost out there as you would, like the game's set on All-Madden and he was expecting Rookie.
Allen, too, is a mystery; he was promoted from defensive coordinator to replace the retired Sean Payton, and for the first three quarters, he seemed three steps behind the flow of the game. The lone initial bright spot: Taysom Hill, a holdover from the Payton era, creating almost the entirety of New Orleans' early offense via a 57-yard direct-snap run, followed shortly after by a touchdown dash. Winston, meanwhile, looked ineffective while not running for his life behind a slipshod offensive line.
Winston brings about 20 percent extra enthusiasm and weirdness to every situation he's in, starting with his pregame routine:
Saints QB Jameis Winston pre-game pic.twitter.com/NnyMERlCq9
— Sean FazendeFOX8 (@SeanFazendeFOX8) September 11, 2022
But whatever he was doing, it ended up paying off in the end. In the first half, Winston completed five of 10 passes for 24 yards. In the second half, he was 18 of 24 for 245 yards, the vast majority of that coming in the fourth quarter. Winston's clarity and accuracy picked apart a Falcons defense that made the ill-advised decision to play soft, and all the flailing and miscues of the first three quarters were forgotten.
"I hope they are not all like that," Allen said afterward. "Our team is tough and gritty. That's what I love about them, and that's exactly how they played tonight. It wasn't perfect. There's a ton of things we've got to clean up. I told them all in there, enjoy the win, but have tough skin tomorrow."
The Saints will get the chance to test themselves against a more reliable opponent in a week when Tampa Bay comes to New Orleans. At that point, they'll start to learn if they're a good team with rough stretches, or a weak team that feasts on even weaker ones.
Contact Jay Busbee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.