NEW ORLEANS - The Saints lost quarterback Jameis Winston early in the second quarter to a likely season-ending knee injury, but they still beat defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay and quarterback Tom Brady, 36-27, at the Louisiana Superdome Sunday afternoon.
Journeyman quarterback Trevor Siemian replaced Winston with the score tied 7-7 and helped lead the Saints to a 29-27 lead on a Brian Johnson field goal with 1:44 to play. It was the Saints defense's mission to stop another last-minute victory by Captain Comeback Brady.
And Saints safety P.J. Williams did just that by intercepting Brady two plays later and returning it 40 yards for a touchdown and the 36-27 lead with 1:24 to play.
The Saints (5-2) finished the Bucs (6-2) and Brady off with two more sacks to ice the victory. But not before a postgame skirmish involving Tampa Bay running back Leonard Fournette, formerly of LSU, Saints safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson and other players.
"Man, I'm glad we were able to win," an emotional Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Winston, the first player picked in the 2015 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay, was off to a very good start against the team that gave up on him following the 2019 season in favor of Brady, who left New England after winning six Super Bowls. He completed 6 of 10 passes for 56 yards with a 16-yard touchdown to wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith to tie the game 7-7 late in the first quarter.
But early in the second quarter, Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White, another former LSU player, obviously horse collar tackled Winston as Winston's left leg bent awkwardly to the side after impact. Winston left the game as the Bucs were penalized for White's tackle.
Winston was helped off and taken to the injury tent before being carted to the locker room. As the second half opened, Winston was ruled out for the game.
The injury was later confirmed as an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, which would likely mean Winston is lost for the season.
"I cried when I saw him (in the locker room)," Payton said. "It's hard. I think it's significant. He felt something. I don't want to say until I have a chance to talk to the doctors."
Winston still celebrated in a raucous Saints' locker room, hopping around on his good right leg as music blared.
Enter Siemian, a seven-year veteran whom the Saints signed last November from Tennessee's practice squad. He replaced Winston after not throwing a pass since 2019 with the New York Jets. Siemian completed 16 of 29 passes for 159 yards with his first touchdown pass since 2017 with Denver and zero interceptions.
"Man, he handled things well," Payton said. "But he's an experienced player in the league."
Siemian, a seventh-round pick by Denver in 2015, was also with Minnesota before the Jets and Tennessee. He was pressed into duty as regular Saints' backup quarterback Taysom Hill was not dressed out as he missed his second consecutive game with a concussion suffered on Oct. 10 in a win at Washington. Hill has a chance to return to action on Sunday when the Saints host Atlanta (3-4) at noon central time Sunday on FOX.
Siemian helped lead the Saints on a drive to a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter on a 23-yard field goal by Johnson. Then Seimian threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Alex Armah to put the Saints up 16-7 with 27 seconds to go before halftime. Johnson missed the extra point.
"That was one of his better throws," Payton said. "I don't know if anyone says we're comfortable throwing to Alex Armah. He's a fullback. It was awesome."
New Orleans took a 23-7 lead early in the third quarter on a 1-yard run on fourth down by running back Alvin Kamara, who led all rushers with 61 yards on 19 carries and caught four passes for 15 yards.
Siemian completed 10 of his first 19 passes for 107 yards as the fourth quarter opened.
Brady threw 7- and 41-yard touchdown passes to running back Giovani Bernard and wide receiver Mike Evans, respectively, to get the Bucs within 23-21 in the third quarter. Brady finished 28-of-40 passing for 375 yards and four touchdowns, but he was intercepted twice.
The Saints extended their lead 26-21 on a 35-yard field goal by Johnson midway through the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay took its first lead since the first quarter on a 50-yard pass from Brady to wide receiver Cyril Grayson for a 27-26 lead with 5:44 to play.