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NEW ORLEANS — Taysom Hill laughed when asked if he paid any attention to the scrutiny and criticism surrounding the New Orleans Saints’ decision to start him at quarterback on Sunday.
No, insisted the fascinating and polarizing 30-year-old curiosity, who is now 1-0 as a starter in the NFL after leading the Saints to a 24-9 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
“Not to be rude or disrespectful in any way, I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff,” Hill said after completing 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards and running the ball 10 times for 51 yards and two touchdowns. “I care about the opinions of those closest to me, my friends, my family, my teammates, my coaches. You get to this level, and you kind of have to have tunnel vision and do your thing.”
Hill didn’t throw a touchdown pass or an interception, but he did lose a fumble after his longest run of the day in the fourth quarter.
However, Hill was quite open about how emotional this week was for him as he prepared to fill in after Drew Brees suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung last week. Brees will miss at least three weeks after being placed on injured reserve by the 8-2 Saints, who won their seventh consecutive game.
“Man, I spent a lot of time reflecting this week,” said Hill, who was a star dual-threat quarterback at BYU but battled injuries and went undrafted in 2017. “My wife and I had so many conversations about where we’ve been, the process of getting here. And if I’m being honest, it was an emotional week.
“Felt a lot of love from a lot of people, and it was overwhelming in a good way. And then to be able to come out and get a win in my first start was gratifying. More than anything, I have so much love and respect for Drew and my other teammates that I wanted to make sure that I did my part to help us continue to win.”
Saints coach Sean Payton’s decision to start Hill over fellow backup Jameis Winston was heavily scrutinized, since Hill had attempted only 20 passes in his four-year NFL career, including the playoffs.
But Payton has long expressed his belief that the dual-threat athlete could be a successful starting quarterback. And he told ESPN’s Dianna Russini before Sunday’s game that Hill “deserves this opportunity.”
Payton downplayed the significance of Hill’s performance after Sunday’s game and even directed the media to start asking about New Orleans’ defense instead. However, Payton couldn’t resist a little gloating minutes later when he retweeted former Falcons receiver Roddy White, exposing White’s “cold take” that read: “Saints about to get whip trying us with taysom hill at qb we about to snack them.”
“I thought he played well. He had the one turnover late in the game,” Payton said of Hill. “We had a big touchdown pass called back [an apparent 57-yarder from Hill to Emmanuel Sanders that was nullified by a holding penalty]. But look, it was a good team win. I thought we were fantastic defensively.”
Hill and the Saints’ offense got off to a bit of a slow start before he led them on their first touchdown drive late in the second quarter — thanks to his longest and ugliest completion of the day. Hill heaved up a wobbly deep ball that was badly underthrown, but Sanders made a great effort to come back for it and make a 44-yard catch. Hill found his groove from that point on, and he connected a total of nine times with Saints receiver Michael Thomas for 104 yards.
“I feel like me and Taysom, we have the same chip on our shoulder,” said Thomas, who also blamed himself for a “terrible drop” early in the game that might have made Hill’s performance even more impressive.
Thomas laughed and acknowledged that Hill throws a “fastball.”
“We’re always trying to come out here and dominate and help this team win games and always prove people wrong and prove people that believe in us right,” Thomas said. “You know he’s a dog, man. Taysom’s a dog. So just to see him come out there and play like he played today, who cares what anyone says? He’s a baller.”
Hill said the Saints cut down “significantly” on the number of designed runs they usually draw up for him. But his legs were still a big asset.
Hill’s first TD run came on a designed QB keeper on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the third quarter. His second TD run was a 10-yard scramble that showed off his speed and athleticism when he couldn’t find an open receiver in the fourth quarter.
Hill went undrafted out of BYU in 2017 after throwing for 6,929 yards and 43 TD passes and running for 2,815 yards and 32 TDs. He began his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers before being claimed by the Saints off waivers.
Since then, his role has steadily increased from special teams to just about every position on the offense. The Saints signed Hill to a two-year, $21 million contract extension as a restricted free agent this offseason.
And now he remains very much in the mix to possibly succeed Brees as New Orleans’ permanent starter if Brees retires after this season.
“Man, Drew was with me every step of the way this week,” Hill said of his mentor. “As we watched film, he was constantly asking me what I needed and how he could be helpful. So, man, he was so critical and such a comfort for me to have around. I look up to him so much, he’s become one of my best friends. He was awesome.”
Of course, Hill didn’t do it alone on Sunday. The Saints’ defense was exceptional for the third week in a row, despite missing No. 1 cornerback Marshon Lattimore with an abdomen injury.
The Saints sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan eight times — including three by defensive end Cameron Jordan, who has now sacked Ryan 21 times in his career. And cornerback Janoris Jenkins intercepted a pass to help clinch the game in the fourth quarter.
Saints running back Alvin Kamara scored his 12th touchdown of the season on a 3-yard run in the second quarter.
Kamara now has 50 career touchdowns in 55 regular-season games. He became the first player in NFL history with at least 500 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in each of his first four seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.