When the New Orleans Saints travel to Tampa Bay, Florida to face the NFC South Division rival Buccaneers this weekend, they'll be doing so with the knowledge that the man who nearly single-handedly beat them back in the Season Opening Week #1 match-up at the Superdome, is not likely to see any action in this long-anticipated rematch.
As most fans know: it was Buccaneers back-up QB Ryan Fitzpatrick who gave the Saints defense such a tough time back on that day, as he helped Tampa stun New Orleans by accumulating 453 total yards and five total touchdowns (four passing).
Fitzpatrick joined former 1990's Redskins QB Mark Rypien (11-10-91 vs. ATL) as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for at least 400 yards, 4 TD's and zero interceptions while also rushing for a touchdown in a single game.
In fact, weeks later it's still the only game in which the Saints defense has given up more than 400 yards through the air this season.
Saints fans certainly would like to put the memories from that day behind them. and it's the reason why so many of them are relieved to see Bucs #1 QB "Famous" Jameis Winston — who has notably struggled in past games against New Orleans — back under center as the starter.
However, there's one small caveat to that entire notion. which is that since returning to the designated starting QB starting role, Winston has actually been playing very well in recent weeks.
Or at least "well enough", by his own standards.
After missing Tampa's first 3 games to open the Regular Season due to a suspension for violating the League's conduct code, Winston has played in seven games, making five starts.
Now grant it, there have actually been some particularly tough times for Winston at various times throughout his young career up to this point; so it what that DOESN'T mean is that Winston is "setting the world on fire" by any stretch of the imagination.
As evidence of that fact: look no further than the Bucs' loss to Cincinnati back in Week #8, when Winston threw four — count them — 4 interceptions and was replaced by Fitzpatrick late in the third quarter.
But then Fitzpatrick himself began to struggle three weeks later at New York against the Giants, prompting Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter to make yet another change.
Winston has slowly began to show great improvement since his well-documented struggles of last year; and hasn't turned the ball over at all in the past two weeks, both wins for Tampa Bay (including last week's 24-17 win over the Carolina Panthers).
Since his return to the starting line-up, Winston has completed 157 of 232 passes for 1,941 yards and 12 TD's, along with 11 interceptions. But perhaps more importantly for Tampa: Winston's 67.7% completion percentage is the best of his entire career up to this point.
And it's with that in mind, which is why it's more than fair to ask:
WHICH version of "Famous" Jameis can the Saints defense expect to see Sunday?
Somewhat surprisingly, both Winston and Fitzpatrick share similar QB traits in that both are quite capable passers while in the pocket; but each player is only effective at doing so only when they're able to keep mistakes to an absolute bare minimum.
In the past, there have been times where Winston has performed well against the Saints; with the most recent time coming in last year's Season Finale at the same Raymond James Stadium where the two teams meet once again in lees than 48 hours from now.
In that contest, Winston drove the Bucs offense 95 yards down the field with less than two minutes remaining, and then sealed the win 31-24 win with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin.
And given that the Saints currently the league's 30th-ranked passing defense (279.3 ypg) despite how well they've performed in recent weeks, there's no reason to suspect that Koetter and Tampa offensive coordinator Todd Monken won't look to exploit the Saints secondary once again as they did in Week #1,
One key factor to keep in mind: with the forecast calling for 100% chance of rain when the game kicks off, "ball security" becomes a HUGE issue for both teams,
And given Winston's past at protecting the football along with just how well that the Saints defense has been playing recently, it could end up being a long and rather soggy afternoon for "Famous" Jameis and friends.
Just in the past 4 games alone, the suddenly-surging Saints defense has only given up 215 passing yards per game, on 92 of 131 passing for four touchdowns, and six interceptions. The Saints also have notched 20 of their 37 sacks this season in the four games, including a whopping 13 sacks just in the last two.games alone.
With those types of numbers, it likely won't matter which version of Jameis Winston — the "good" one or the "bad" one — shows up against the Saints at a wet field at Raymond James Stadium, in less than 48 hours from now....