The good and the bad of Jameis Winston were on display; is another starting job in his future?

Jameis Winston was both magnificent and infuriating in the Saints' loss to Minnesota. What does that mean for his future?

On the very day that Jimbo Fisher was bounced from his perch at Texas A&M, Jameis Winston ended his afternoon scrambling and slinging in desperation. There’s a circularity there, given that 10 years ago Fisher and Winston were the centerpiece of a relentless national championship-winning Florida State team, a head coach and a quarterback who didn’t know in that moment that their professional lives would never be that good again.

Winston remains one of the most fascinating talents in the NFL, with an arm capable of throwing a ball through the roof of the Superdome and an aim which makes that a very real possibility. Whether with Florida State, Tampa Bay or New Orleans — the man apparently needs to stay close to the Gulf to maintain his powers — he’s both maddening and inspiring.

The years, and waves of successive college and Heisman-winning quarterbacks, have pushed Winston to the fringes of the NFL — well, that and his propensity for throwing game-shattering interceptions. He’s still the only quarterback to throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a season, a record he might hold for quite awhile.

Now a backup to Derek Carr, he came on when Carr left Sunday’s game against the Vikings with a concussion, and immediately delivered a jolt to a Saints team that’s rarely been above, or below, lukewarm all year. Winston came on halfway through the third quarter, and with his third pass, delivered this touchdown to Chris Olave:

“Chris is just an unbelievable receiver,” Winston said after the game. “When you give him opportunities, he does great things.”

How remarkable was that catch? According to NFL Next Gen Stats, with a 10.5% chance of completion, it ranked as the most improbable catch of the entire season across the whole league. (Cleveland’s P.J. Walker completed an even more improbable pass to Amari Cooper later in the day, but the point still stands.)

Winston found a connection with Olave, whom he targeted eight times, including that touchdown. Olave finished the day with 94 yards on six catches, his best afternoon since Week 3.

Other numbers defined Winston’s afternoon: 2 and 2, as in two touchdowns and two interceptions. (With Winston, salvation and damnation are perfectly balanced.) First, the positive, as Winston somehow fit a touchdown pass to A.T. Perry inside a space the diameter of a ping-pong ball:

“I saw him in the corner of the end zone,” Winston said. “I just gave him a ball that only he could get to.”

Now, the negative. Winston came on with New Orleans down 27-3, and the Saints' defense kept Minnesota from scoring again. But as incredible as those two touchdowns were, Winston also managed to smother New Orleans’ opportunities to mount the unlikeliest of comebacks. His second touchdown to close to within eight points came with 11:40 remaining in the game, but Winston then threw interceptions on New Orleans’ next two possessions. The Vikings hung on to win 27-19.

“It’s obviously a tough situation to come into when you’re down that many points, and the [other] team knows you’re going to have to throw the ball,” Saints head coach Dennis Allen said after the game. “So I thought, under all those circumstances, he did a good job.”

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) passes against the Minnesota Vikings during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
Saints quarterback Jameis Winston brought joy and pain to New Orleans' passing game in Sunday's defeat against the Vikings. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Yes, those interceptions hurt. But you look at those touchdowns, and the arm, and the touch, and you think, maybe this time it’ll be different

“If I’m given the opportunity,” Winston said, “I can promise you I’ll be doing my best to execute, stay disciplined and give the team all I’ve got.”

Allen kept perspective, quickly closing down any possibility of a quarterback controversy:

"I know we're not in a competition there," Allen said. "I thought Jameis did some good things, but Derek Carr is our starting quarterback."

For all of Carr’s flaws, he has still guided the team to a 5-5 record, which is good enough for first place in the woeful NFC South. After a bye week that will allow Carr time to heal, the Saints will face a key divisional matchup against Atlanta, a game that could go a long way toward determining who stumbles into the playoffs from the division.

As for Winston, all these years later, we’re still trying to figure out if he is a magnificent quarterback with frequent terrible stretches, or an awful quarterback who can occasionally manufacture brilliance out of thin air. It’ll be fascinating the next time he gets the chance to settle the debate, whenever that may be.