Taysom Hill’s first NFL start at quarterback was a success, as the Pocatello native and Highland alumnus led the New Orleans Saints to a 24-9 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in New Orleans.
“If I’m being honest, it was an emotional week,” Hill said in a postgame press conference. “I felt a lot of love from a lot of people. It was overwhelming in a good way. We spent a lot of time reflecting and then to be able to come out and get a win in the first start was gratifying more than anything.”
Hill completed 18 of 23 pass attempts for 223 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran 10 times for a team-high 51 yards and two scores.
“Big shoutout from this community. He was born and raised here, and played his youth football, played his high school ball here,” said Gino Mariani, Hill’s former head coach at Highland. “It’s just kind of neat to see a kid from Pocatello on the big stage doing well.”
It was reported Friday morning that Hill would get the start with Drew Brees out after suffering multiple broken ribs and a collapsed lung last week against the San Francisco 49ers.
Hill, who played quarterback at Highland and then BYU, signed with the Saints in 2017 but had been used primarily as a utility player, getting snaps as a gadget quarterback but also at wide receiver, tight end, running back and on special teams.
The 23 pass attempts he had Sunday were more than the 20 he had attempted in his career to that point.
“I always knew he could throw the football, he’s just never had a consistent chance,” Mariani said. “It’s just always been here or there, so for him to be able to show that off a little bit, it was fun to watch.”
Hill was 9 of 13 for 127 yards at halftime as the Saints held a narrow 10-9 lead. His biggest play in the first half was a 44-yard completion to Emmanuel Sanders on an underthrown ball that the receiver circled back to. That led to the Saints’ first touchdown late in the second quarter.
Hill continued to star in the second half. His first touchdown run came in the third quarter, as he broke through the right side of the line on a designed quarterback run to convert a fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line.
He then ran for his second touchdown in the fourth quarter, scrambling to his left and down the sideline for a 10-yard score.
“I think, early on, they really started him out pretty conservative, which is probably understandable,” Mariani said. “You just make the plays you’re supposed to make, and I thought he did that. Second half, they opened it up a little bit more, he made some great throws and threw on time, scrambled when he needed to and put the ball in the end zone.”
Hill’s best throw of the day didn’t count, as a deep 57-yard touchdown to Sanders in the second half was called back for a holding penalty. He also lost a fumble after a long run, also in the second half.
“Overall, I was happy with what we did,” Hill said. “You know, I think the first thing is, you come out, you look at turnovers and I was really disappointed that I put the ball on the ground late in the game. (I) felt like that was a drive where we could have just put the game away.
“But overall, without looking at the film and really breaking everything down, I was happy with the way that I played. I was happy with the way that my teammates played. And man, it was a collective effort to get this win.”