Hill completed 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards and ran the ball 10 times for 51 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints’ 24-9 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass or an interception, but he did lose a fumble after his longest run of the day in the fourth quarter.
The Saints (8-2) have now won seven straight games, despite losing starter Drew Brees for at least three weeks when he suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung last week.
Payton’s decision to start Hill over fellow backup Jameis Winston was both fascinating and heavily scrutinized, since Hill had attempted only 20 passes in his four-year NFL career, including the playoffs.
But Payton has long expressed his belief that the dual-threat athlete could be a successful starting quarterback. And he told ESPN’s Dianna Russini before Sunday’s game that Hill “deserves this opportunity.”
Hill and the Saints’ offense got off to a bit of a slow start before he led them on their first touchdown drive late in the second quarter — thanks to his longest and ugliest completion of the day. Hill heaved up a wobbly deep ball that was badly underthrown, but receiver Emmanuel Sanders made a great effort to come back for it and make a 44-yard catch. Hill found his groove from that point on, and he connected a total of nine times with Saints receiver Michael Thomas for 104 yards. Hill also threw an apparent 57-yard TD pass to Sanders on a beautiful deep ball, but it was nullified by a holding penalty.
Hill’s first TD run came on a designed QB keeper on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the third quarter. His second TD run was a 10-yard scramble that showed off his speed and athleticism when he couldn’t find an open receiver in the fourth quarter.
Hill went undrafted out of BYU in 2017 after throwing for 6,929 yards and 43 TD passes and running for 2,815 yards and 32 TDs. He began his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers before being claimed by the Saints off waivers.
Since then, his role has steadily increased from special teams to just about every position on the offense. The Saints signed Hill to a two-year, $21 million contract extension as a restricted free agent this offseason.
And now he remains very much in the mix to possibly succeed Brees as New Orleans’ permanent starter if Brees retires after this season.
Of course, Hill didn’t do it alone on Sunday. The Saints’ defense was exceptional for the third week in a row, despite missing No. 1 cornerback Marshon Lattimore with an abdomen injury.
The Saints sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan eight times — including three by defensive end Cameron Jordan, who has now sacked Ryan 21 times in his career. And cornerback Janoris Jenkins intercepted a pass to help clinch the game in the fourth quarter.
And Saints running back Alvin Kamara scored his 12th touchdown of the season on a 3-yard run in the second quarter.
Kamara now has 50 career touchdowns in 55 regular-season games. He became the first player in NFL history with at least 500 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in each of his first four seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.