FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Taysom Hill didn’t get the chance to be the winning quarterback Sunday for the New Orleans Saints, since he lost out to Jameis Winston in this summer’s battle to become Drew Brees’ successor.
So Hill did the next best thing. He was the Saints’ closer instead.
Back in his familiar do-everything role on offense and special teams, Hill ran the ball four times for 26 yards and a touchdown during a game-clinching drive in the fourth quarter of the Saints' 28-13 road win against the New England Patriots.
“Taysom, when he comes in, he’s just a bully,” Saints running back Alvin Kamara said on the FOX broadcast. “He can throw the ball, but when he’s going out there, he’s trying to punish.”
The 6-foot-2, 221-pound Hill also showed off his agility when he leaped in the air to hurdle over Patriots safety Devin McCourty for a few extra yards on a 14-yard gain.
UP TOP ⬆️ pic.twitter.com/caXd0hBUdf— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 26, 2021
“The safety came down, he was sitting right in the hole. So I really didn’t have anywhere to go but up,” said Hill, who gained a total of three first downs on the drive.
“He looked like me,” said Kamara -- who later added that he doesn’t necessarily consider Hill as a “closer” as much as a valuable element that coach Sean Payton can use in the right moments to keep defenses off balance.
“I think it was just Sean going in and pulling some more tricks out of his hat,” Kamara said. “And you know Taysom, he’s always ready.”
Hill said he “would be lying” if he didn’t admit it was tough for him to lose out on the starting quarterback job. He has made it clear that playing quarterback is his No. 1 goal ever since he first arrived in New Orleans as an undrafted rookie in 2017 and started playing on special teams before growing into an offensive role as a read-option QB/RB/FB/TE/WR.
“But it wasn’t my time,” Hill acknowledged. “So you’ve got to find ways to help the team win. So with that in mind, I was happy to step [back] into a role that gave us an advantage.
“You know, it’s been 'all-go' since then, for sure.”
All four of Hill’s runs on Sunday's game-clinching drive came when he was lined up at QB. One of them actually called for a potential jump-pass, but Hill said he didn’t get the right look from the defense.
Payton explained that Hill is especially valuable in situations like that, when you expect to see heavier defensive fronts loading the box. Because when the quarterback is also a running back, you can spread out your offense more and force a defender to leave the area.
Hill has 10 carries for 49 yards this season. He also completed a pass for 3 yards in Week 1 and assisted on a special teams tackle in Week 2.
It’s a little surprising he doesn’t have a catch yet -- since he has 30 catches for 336 yards and seven touchdowns in his career. But it seems like it’s just a matter of time.
The Saints need Hill as a playmaker more than ever, since they’re so thin on proven skill players. Star wide receiver Mike Thomas is out for at least two more games with an ankle injury, and the Saints parted ways with veterans Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook and Latavius Murray.
Kamara had 27 touches Sunday and has had a higher usage rate than normal this year out of necessity.
“I think it’s been kind of a slow ramp-up period,” said Hill, who was more heavily involved in Week 3 than he was in the first two weeks. “I think this is the most I’ve played at different spots [this season]. So I hope it continues to go that way.”
What remains to be seen is what the long-term future holds for Hill, who turned 31 in August and is scheduled to be a free agent after this season.
Although Winston outperformed him this summer, Hill has proved that he can be a legitimate consideration at quarterback -- and not just a novelty act. He was 3-1 as a starter last season when Brees was injured and completed 72.7% of his passes, though he struggled when he was forced into his third and fourth reads.
But in the meantime, he will remain a valuable X factor.
“I have a very clear vision for how he’s going to help us this year,” Payton said after he made his decision and had a long talk with Hill. “[Winston and Hill] are both going to be extremely important for us to play well and win games this year.”