METAIRIE, La. -- Jameis Winston initially tried to downplay the significance of making his first start against his former team Sunday when the New Orleans Saints host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- calling them "the next opponent."
But the former No. 1 overall draft pick went on to explain that the main reason for that approach is because he doesn't need any added emotion or revenge element while he attempts to revive his career in New Orleans.
"This week is big. But I mean every week is big for me. Being out a year, you get a chance to see how much you miss being away from this game," said Winston, who spent last year as a backup behind Drew Brees after Tampa Bay decided to replace him with Tom Brady and went on to win the Super Bowl.
"Yeah, I'm playing against the old squad. But I love this game, and I'm trying to go out there and beat everybody we play, no matter who it is," said Winston, who has gone 4-2 as a starter with the Saints -- though they are still chasing the 6-1 Buccaneers atop the NFC South standings.
"I've always been an emotional football player," the 27-year-old Winston added. "I think that's something that I'm trying to work on -- being present instead of being stuck in my feelings. As a quarterback, we have to be present all the time and aware of everything that's going on. Sometimes too much emotion can lead us places that we don't want to go.
"Obviously I want to beat 'em, I want to beat 'em bad. And in my heart, I'm ready to rock. But at the end of the day they're another opponent -- another opponent that we gotta beat that's in this division. And they've got a good team, they're coming in here hot. So we've gotta stand our ground and represent at our house."
Saints coach Sean Payton joked that he doesn't expect Winston to try and wreak havoc on the Buccaneers like Forest Whitaker's character in the movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," after his car was smashed up.
"He's playing quarterback, so he needs to be precise, on point, and I think he understands that," Payton said. "I think he's smart enough and mature enough to focus on the things you need to do to win."
Winston also insisted that it wasn't hard for him to watch the Buccaneers win a Super Bowl without him last year because he was happy for so many teammates he had played with from 2015-2019. And he said he never had to battle anger or bitterness after Tampa Bay let him go as a free agent.
"No, everything happens for a reason. And I'm very grateful for that organization and for the Glazer family giving me the opportunity, drafted No. 1 overall to that city," Winston said. "That city's done a lot for me, and I know I've done a lot for that city. That's where I stay at now. So I definitely love that city. ... This week it's time to play and all the lovey-dovey stuff is behind."
Winston said that there aren't many trash talkers on Tampa's defense -- but he might not have been giving his friend Jason Pierre-Paul enough credit.
"I can't wait, I can't wait. I'm actually going to text him and tell him to get ready," Pierre-Paul said. "I can't wait to play Jameis. It's going to be fun. He's like a brother to me. I remember we were hiking in the offseason in Colorado, but I can't wait to hunt him down. It's crazy, Jameis is a different type of breed."
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians pointed out that the biggest difference he has seen in Winston with the Saints is his usage after Winston led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards while infamously becoming the first player in league history to throw at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season during their one year together in 2019.
"He's probably throwing it 15 times less a game," Arians said. "They're playing with a lead, and we didn't have that many leads that [season], so we had to throw it. So, yeah, he's playing very, very well at the position."
Indeed, the Saints rank last in the NFL with just 25.8 pass attempts per game, and Winston is averaging just 185.7 passing yards per game. Winston's completion percentage is just 58.9%, but he has a stellar TD-INT ratio of 13-3 and a passer rating of 102.4.
Deep balls remain a specialty for Winston, with four completions of 49-plus yards.
"I think he is a really good quarterback in this league. I think he can really make plays that other guys can't make," Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. "He makes plays that very few guys in this league can make, so I always thought he was a special, unique guy. I feel the same way about him now."
ESPN Buccaneers reporter Jenna Laine contributed to this report.