With Derek Carr's status in doubt, Saints confident in Jameis Winston

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints are used to this feeling.

They’re potentially facing their fifth straight season of playing a backup quarterback just three weeks into the season after starter Derek Carr went down with a shoulder injury in an 18-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Saints coach Dennis Allen said Carr is week-to-week with an AC joint sprain, but the team will be cautious with the quarterback and it would be a surprise if he played next week, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter. While he hasn't officially been ruled out for Sunday's game (1 p.m. ET, FOX) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his status going forward will be dependent on his pain tolerance and his ability to function with the injury. Allen said some players have come back in a week from this injury, while others take longer.

Allen said Carr was already feeling better within 24 hours of getting hurt.

"It's huge for us, he's the leader of the offense," wide receiver Chris Olave said Monday. "We definitely wanted him out there to end the game, it stings as it went, but to be able to figure out he's not out as long as we thought he would be is huge for us. Just to be able to have his presence, even if he's not on the field with us, that's going to be huge. Just to get him back in a few weeks is going to be huge for us."

Monday's optimism was a big contrast from the uncertainty in the hours after Carr hit the turf and did not immediately get up. Saints players, many of whom knelt on the ground until Carr got up and walked to the medical tent, were concerned about his well being after he was sent to a local hospital in Green Bay for X-rays.

“I know everything is going to be OK,” tight end Juwan Johnson said. "Derek’s a strong guy."

The Saints have started eight different quarterbacks since 2019. They endured injuries to Drew Brees in 2019 and 2020, saw Jameis Winston tear his ACL as the starter in 2021 and regrouped with Andy Dalton after the team sat Winston with back and foot injuries last season.

Now they're prepared to do it again, with Winston likely being the guy who steps into the starting role this time.

"We know what we can do. We played with [Winston] last year. He can run the offense well," Olave said. "We're going to do everything we can to get open for whoever is back there."

The Saints (2-1) have no choice but to regroup quickly against the Buccaneers, who will be coming off a short week after playing the Philadelphia Eagles on "Monday Night Football." Winston, who took Carr's place against the Packers, said they're not panicking after giving up a 17-0 fourth quarter lead.

“This team, we will be fine,” Winston said after the game. “We’re ready, we are prepared, we have great leaders on this team."

Sunday's game against the Buccaneers could be a big moment for Winston, who is in the final year of a restructured deal where he took a pay cut after Carr signed with the team as the new starter this offseason. Winston has said he still feels like he's capable of being a starter and insinuated that he didn't get a fair shake after the Saints chose to stick with Dalton when Winston returned from his injuries.

Winston will have a chance to prove that against the team that made him the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2015. Winston's first full game against the Buccaneers as a starter last season ended with three interceptions in a 20-10 loss.

Winston finished last season 1-2 as the starter before giving way to Dalton, and he's 6-4 since arriving in New Orleans in 2020.

He'll have to take over an offense that is reeling after failing to score any points after Carr left the game Sunday. Although the Saints averaged more yards per play under Winston (4.9 in 22 plays vs. 3.6 in 31 plays under Carr), four drives ended in punts, prior to a failed field goal attempt that would have given them the lead with 1:05 remaining.

"I know my guy [Carr] wants to win, wants to play," defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "... Hopefully it's nothing that keeps him off the field. Jameis stepped up, we've got extreme confidence in Jameis and what he's been able to do when he's in command.

"It's not like he's in an unfamiliar offense here."

Carr went 13 of 18 passing for 103 yards and a touchdown and no interceptions before exiting with 10:51 left in the third quarter. Winston went 10 of 16 for 101 yards with no turnovers or touchdowns.

"We're sitting at 2-1 now. I didn't see that happening, especially the way we were playing in the first half," Jordan said, adding that the offense and special teams both scored while the defense gave up two scores.

The offensive issues didn't start and end with Carr or Winston. The Saints allowed four sacks for the third straight game, went an entire half without scoring a touchdown three weeks in a row and had fewer than 100 rushing yards for the second time.

The Saints have not been able to fix what’s ailing their offensive line, which lost guard Cesar Ruiz to a concussion Sunday. Allen was asked about potential changes to the line Monday, but he said that they'll determine that after evaluating where the unit is health-wise later in the week. Ruiz was still in the concussion protocol Monday.

“I think it needs to be better,” Allen said of the protection. “For whatever reason, we’ve got to figure that out -- particularly early in the game. I think that’s something we’ve got to improve and we’ve got to get better at.”

Despite the struggles, the Saints will have reason for optimism when running back Alvin Kamara returns from his three-game suspension this week. Kamara, who was back in the building on Monday, has had success with Winston in the past, scoring five all-purpose touchdowns in the six full games Winston played in 2021 -- despite failing to score in the two games they played together last season.

Winston has already played with a number of the Saints' main skill position players, with the exception of Rashid Shaheed.

“Jameis has been in this offense before. We trust Jameis," Johnson said. "He knows what he’s doing. He’s a great leader, great quarterback. There’s no falloff. That’s the biggest thing. Everybody trusts Jameis.”