TAMPA — Jameis Winston wants you to know he is better, not bitter. Though the Bucs franchise that drafted him first overall in 2015 kicked him overboard after five seasons, he insists he harbors no bad feelings.
“Everything happens for a reason, and I’m very grateful for that organization and the Glazer family for giving me the opportunity to be drafted No. 1 overall to that city,” Winston said Thursday. “That city has done a lot for me, and I know I’ve done a lot for that city, so that’s why I stay there (his primary residence is still in North Tampa). I definitely love that city, and now we get to play them. So this week, it’s time to play.
“All the lovey-dovey stuff is behind.”
Winston, who sat behind Saints starting quarterback Drew Brees in 2020 while watching the Bucs win Super Bowl 55, will make his first start against his former team Sunday at the Superdome in New Orleans.
A year ago, in his first Saints season, Winston attempted one pass and completed it for 12 yards in a 38-3 blowout of the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium as New Orleans completed a sweep of the regular-season series. The Saints have won five straight regular-season games over the Bucs and four consecutive NFC South titles.
But the Bucs won the game that mattered most last season, 30-20 in a division playoff game in New Orleans. Winston was in for one play and completed a 56-yard touchdown pass.
“It was fun. We won (the regular-season games),” Winston said. “We didn’t win the playoff game. That was tough. That was my first time in the playoffs, so I definitely wanted to win that one. It was fun. But this is this year, and we get them twice and maybe three times this year, so let’s start with this one.”
Winston said that while he enjoyed learning from Brees and coach Sean Payton last season, he missed playing the game.
“This week is big, but every week is big for me,” Winston said. “Being out a year, you get a chance to see how much you miss being away from this game. Especially, I got a chance to watch Drew play, and that was fun, but at the end of the day, I still wanted to play. I love this game. And I’m playing against the old squad, but man, I love this game. I’m going out there and trying to beat everybody that we play, no matter who it is.”
Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said emotions will run high for Winston on Sunday, the way it did for Tom Brady when he returned to New England on Oct. 3.
“It’s really emotional because of all the ties you that you have to a building, to a city, regardless of how it went, good or bad,” Leftwich said. “It’s always emotional. (Winston will) be fine, though. I mean, it’s football, so once you get on the football field, once the game is starting, trust me, everybody’s mind is completely on football.”
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Since he has been on the other side of this rivalry, he said, he knows the Bucs are motivated by not being able to wrestle the NFC South title away from the Saints the past four years.
“Every year, when you win the Super Bowl, the bull’s-eye is on your back,” Winston said. “But the Saints have been the division champion … for the past (four years). So I think we’ve got the bull’s-eye on our back with those guys coming in.
“We’re all trying to win the Super Bowl this year.”
Winston and the Saints are off to a good start. New Orleans is 4-2, and Winston has thrown 13 touchdown passes with only three interceptions. That’s a staggering improvement over his final season with the Bucs, 2019, when he threw 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.
How did Winston feel about watching the Bucs win the Super Bowl?
“I was very happy for the guys who put in a lot of years there with me,” Winston said. “For them to get there and end up on top, I was very happy for my teammates. But it’s this year now, and that’s one of our goals, and our next opponent is them, so that’s who we want to beat this week.”
Payton was asked how he thinks Winston will handle the emotion of starting against his former team.
“That’s a good question because it seems like it’s been a minute,” Payton said. “I think he’s smart enough and mature enough to focus on the things you need to do to win. There’s a handful of players (with the Bucs) that were teammates of his, and there are probably a group of new faces as well, and at that position you want to play well. Obviously, you want to play well against a team you were a member of.”
Winston said he expects some words will be exchanged with his former teammates on the field. He regularly texts a few of them during the season.
“There’s not too many trash-talkers on that team, but we’re going to be talking back and forth,” Winston said. “But actions speak louder than your words, and that’s what most of those guys on that defense are about, about actions, and that’s what we’re going to be about come Sunday.”
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com or 727-709-5982. Follow @NFLSTROUD.
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