What will it take for Sean Payton to trust Jameis Winston?

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I’ve already written about how Sean Payton may have broken Jameis Winston in order to fix his worst tendencies, but Winston showed some of those positive qualities I’d been searching for in Sunday’s game with the New York Giants. Then Payton effectively took Winston out of the game, showing a baffling lack of trust in his quarterback.

The fourth quarter began with New Orleans possessing the football at New York’s 18-yard line. They had three more possessions in the final period, their control of the pace of play spanning 7 minutes and 35 seconds of game clock, and Winston totaled just four pass attempts. Payton took the game out of his hands to try and run out the clock behind Taysom Hill and Alvin Kamara, a strategy that worked last week. He played not to lose instead of choosing to play to win.

What’s different is he had a strong enough lead against a poor enough offense to trust that strategy in New England, against an overwhelmed rookie with a toothless receiving corps. This time around Payton went into the fourth quarter having already seen Daniel Jones carve up his secondary with big plays to Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and John Ross. He watched Saquon Barkley score from 54 yards out in-between his final possessions to cut New Orleans’ lead to just three points and stubbornly refused to change his approach. With the stakes rising higher, Payton showed the world how little faith he has in Winston.

And it’s not Winston’s fault. He’s done what he’s been told. Sure, he could have executed some plays better but he’s thrown eight touchdowns against just two interceptions (without Michael Thomas, Tre’Quan Smith, Erik McCoy, and Terron Armstead playing a single game together). Through those four games he’s completed 55 of his 86 pass attempts (63.9%) for 613 passing yards, taking 7 sacks but not fumbling once.

That projects over a 17-game season as a 233-of-366 line for 2,605 yards and 34 touchdowns against 9 interceptions and 30 sacks. That’s not good enough for Payton for to give him the green light to win a game when it really counts? The guy who called “Ambush” in Super Bowl XLIV would rather play it safe to a fault?

Winston hasn’t chaffed against getting subbed out for Hill — who, we’ve got to recognize, threw the Saints’ only interception today on an ill-advised shot play to the 5-foot-6 Deonte Harris covered by the 6-foot-1 James Bradberry. And, yeah, it matters that Winston is working with a weaker supporting cast on offense than he ever dealt with in Tampa Bay.

Maybe Payton is holding last week’s frightful throwaway-turned-touchdown against Winston even now. Maybe he isn’t sold on the progress Winston has made since his turnover-prone Buccaneers days. Maybe Winston needs to start bringing donuts to morning film meetings to try and win back his coach’s favor. Crossing that divide, whatever its cause, is up to Payton. He’s the one cooling on his handpicked passer. If all he wants his quarterback to do is hit some 8-yard curls and slants and lose snaps to Hill, why not just start Hill anyway?

I just hope they figure it out soon. Right now it doesn’t feel like Payton would trust Winston to walk his dog, much less lead his offense to a last-minute scoring drive. That’s obviously not a sustainable strategy. The good news is that it’s a long season, the Saints are still 2-2, and they’re getting enough impact players back in the weeks ahead to get them back on track. If they don’t steady the ship, look for Payton to do whatever’s necessary in the spring to go find a quarterback he trusts as implicitly as he did Drew Brees (like, I don’t know, disgruntled franchise passers already considering trade demands like Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers).

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