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Taysom Hill starts, steps up, leads Saints to win over Falcons

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The New Orleans Saints can exhale. New Orleans tossed Taysom Hill the keys to the franchise on Sunday, and he brought it home before curfew and without a scratch.

Hill, a real-life “Madden” create-a-player, led the Saints to a 24-9 victory over the Atlanta Falcons via a combination of expected do-anything athleticism and unexpected pocket presence. He wasn’t stellar, but he didn’t need to be, not when his defense swallowed up every Falcons threat. His receivers — particularly Michael Thomas — rose to the moment, and his coaches schemed a constant-motion game plan that kept Atlanta befuddled all afternoon.

Saints head coach Sean Payton has made no secret of his infatuation with Hill’s talents, which include everything from rushing to passing to receiving to punt-blocking to, probably, cooking Thanksgiving dinner. It was all well and good when Hill was a gadget to drop into the Saints’ Brees-centric gameplan.m But when Payton signed Hill to a two-year, $21 million extension in April, suddenly the gadgetry stopped being cute. And when Brees landed on the IR and Payton decided to go with Hill over erratic-but-established QB Jameis Winston this weekend, the questions and second-guessing flew.

Hill’s a nice little asset, but franchise centerpiece? Really?

Taysom Hill led the Saints to a 24-9 victory over the Falcons in his first NFL start. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Taysom Hill led the Saints to a 24-9 victory over the Falcons in his first NFL start. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Taysom Hill makes most of chance

Sunday morning, Payton told ESPN that Hill “deserves this opportunity,” noting that “we've had a chance to see him play that position a lot more than anyone else. When the fans have seen him, he's been in a different role.”

Turns out that a howling gaggle of Twitter critics didn’t know better than one of the great offensive minds of the modern NFL after all.

Granted, Atlanta had the third-worst defense overall and the second-worst defense against the pass coming into the game. Even so, Hill steadied himself quickly and grew more comfortable as the game wore on. He began by keeping the ball on the ground and targeting virtually every pass at Thomas, which is not a bad gameplan.

Prior to Sunday, Hill had thrown 18 passes in his entire career. Against Atlanta, he went 18-for-23 for 233 yards, to go with 51 yards on the ground. His long passes bore more resemblance to ducks than darts, but when you’ve got Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders leaping for receptions, “good enough” is good enough.

Hill also scored two touchdowns on the ground, using the athleticism that made him so useful as a role player. His lone real mistake came midway through the fourth quarter, when he got careless while on a breakaway run and fumbled. His tendency to lean into contact isn’t what you want to see out of your starting quarterback, but it worked Sunday.

Saints defense helps ease Hill’s outing

Helping Hill’s cause: the Saints defense, which devoured Matt Ryan and shut down any serious threat throughout the game. New Orleans sacked Ryan an astounding eight times and picked him twice, and Atlanta never got anywhere close to the end zone. When your defense is clicking like that, your quarterback basically just needs to keep upright and you’re in solid shape.

There’s nothing “good” you can say about an injury that sidelines a certain Hall of Famer, but the Saints are in the midst of perhaps the most favorable four-game stretch for Brees to miss. Their next three games, all on the road, are against Denver, Atlanta again and Philadelphia. All are eminently winnable with a reasonably competent Hill at quarterback.

The speculation is that Hill is getting groomed to replace Brees next year. If that’s true, Sunday marked the start of Hill’s on-the-job training. With one week down, he has passed his first audition.


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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