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Marcus Mariota: I’ve always told Jameis Winston, “I’m one of your biggest fans”

The New Orleans Saints will be taking on the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1, and Chris Simms and Mike Florio explain why the Saints could take this win with a new head coach.

They played against each other for the Rose Bowl, part of the first College Football Playoffs.

Then they went 1-2 in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Then they played against each other to start off their careers for the Buccaneers and Titans.

Now quarterback Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are the starters for the Saints and Falcons, respectively. And they’ll begin the 2022 season by playing against each other once more when New Orleans faces Atlanta on Sunday.

Mariota said Wednesday that he’s admired Winston for a long time.

“It’s such an interesting story, right? I got to know Jameis during the combine,” Mariota said in his press conference. “We actually trained together out in Carlsbad in California, and I’ve always told him, ‘I’m one of your biggest fans,’ and I’ve always wished him well. Now, that we’re kind of going on these different paths and different journeys, that doesn’t change for me.

“So, I’m excited to see him, and I always wish him the best. Going through our different paths you always want to see someone like that be successful and given another opportunity.”

Neither Winston nor Mariota worked out at their first stop. Though Winston led the league with 5,109 yards passing and had 30 touchdowns with Tampa Bay in 2019, he also threw 30 interceptions. And he never led the Buccaneers to the playoffs in his five seasons with the club. That led to Tampa Bay replacing him with Tom Brady in 2020.

Tennessee benched Mariota midway through the 2019 season for Ryan Tannehill and the team went to the AFC Championship game. The Titans have made it back to the playoffs in each of the last two years. But Mariota did at least pilot the club to the postseason in 2017 and lead them to a playoff victory.

After spending the last two years as a backup with the Raiders, Mariota said starting again is “almost surreal.”

“The last couple of seasons you’re kind of always one play away, you’re always prepared to be the starter,” Mariota said. “But to be here again in this situation, to have this opportunity is very exciting for me and I can’t wait for it on Sunday.”

Mariota got the best of that Week One matchup in 2015, compiling a perfect passer rating of 158.3 as he threw for 209 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-14 victory. Winston threw for 210 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his debut.