Normally, you would expect the training wheels to come off of a quarterback in his second NFL start. But in Taysom Hill's case, it was the exact opposite.
Hill was much less effective as a passer in the New Orleans Saints' 31-3 victory at Denver on Sunday, completing just 9 of 16 passes for 78 yards with one interception while also running for 44 yards and two touchdowns.
However, Saints coach Sean Payton made it clear that Hill was asked to do very little because of the unique circumstances that left the Broncos without a true quarterback on their active roster.
“Taysom played this thing just how I wanted him to play it,” Payton insisted. “And it doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing to be effective. The job is to win, and he did a good job of that.
“I thought Taysom played well, but he played an entirely different type of game -- and that had a lot to do with me, relative to how we wanted to play this game. I was in his ear 24/7 just about being smart with the football.”
Of course that won’t completely exonerate Hill in the court of public opinion. And it won’t be enough to convince any skeptics that Hill could be the long-term successor to Drew Brees in New Orleans.
But considering that Payton is Hill’s most important evaluator, his grade still has to be considered as an incomplete through two NFL starts. And it sure seems like Payton plans to stick with Hill again next week at Atlanta while Brees remains sidelined by broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Hill himself acknowledged that, “As far as evaluating my performance, it’s a difficult game to look at as a competitor and feel really gratified about.”
But he said the Saints’ game plan changed “drastically” on Saturday after the Saints found out that Denver would be without all of its quarterbacks because of COVID-19 protocols. And Hill said, “Overall, I was happy with the way that I was able to manage the game plan.”
“Look, it’s about what I expected,” said Hill, who took three sacks -- and very few chances -- while the Saints ran the ball on 44 of their 63 offensive plays. “The game plan changed the last 24 hours. So my mindset changed as well. And I really became a game manager at that point. And certainly the way that Sean called the game reflected that.”
Hill did miss on some throws -- including a deep ball that he airmailed over the head of tight end Jared Cook and the interception that was tipped away from receiver Michael Thomas by a defender and caught off the deflection.
However, Hill and Payton were less critical of the times that Hill held onto the ball -- such as his three sacks or a screen pass to Alvin Kamara that he decided not to risk, which led to a penalty for an illegal offensive lineman downfield.
“There’s a few ways to lose a game like that -- and we weren’t interested in one of those,” said Payton, who also rejected the notion that Denver’s defense did anything to confuse or limit Hill’s performance -- which was the narrative when Miami Dolphins rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa struggled in a loss to Denver last week.
“They do a good job defensively, but that wouldn’t be how I would describe the defense,” Payton said.
Hill still made two nice downfield throws to Thomas and a nice rollout throw to receiver Tre’Quan Smith on the move Sunday, in addition to the big plays he continued to make with his legs.
And though the performance was lackluster overall, it wasn’t enough to erase all the good things Hill did a week earlier in the Saints’ 24-9 win over the Falcons. He was 18-of-23 in that game for 233 yards, with zero TD passes or interceptions. He ran for 49 yards and two TDs with a lost fumble. And his day would have been even better if an apparent 57-yard TD pass on a beautiful deep ball hadn’t been nullified by a holding penalty.
The Saints (9-2) will get another crack at that same Falcons team in Week 13. It’s unclear when Brees will be healthy enough to return from the injured reserve list (Week 14 is the earliest possible date).
But it is clear that Hill’s evaluation is still ongoing in the meantime.