With the Thursday release of the 2022 schedule now behind them, Winston and the rest of his Saints teammates know what attractions await them on their road ahead. If the journey truly began today, Winston has waited long enough to get back to it.
"Coach, if you needed me to strap it on right now, I'd be ready to go," Winston told former Lions and 49ers coach Steve Mariucci during an appearance on NFL Network's '22 Schedule Release on Thursday.
Realistically speaking, it sounds as if Winston's knee rehab goal remains the same: Week 1 of the regular season.
"I'm taking this process slowly," Winston said. "It's about getting better every day. I'm embracing it. I'm excited to be able to talk football and just keep progressing."
Winston received a real taste of life without football in 2021 when his knee injury ended what was becoming a promising season and forced him to take his helmet and go home. For the first time, Winston didn't have a competitive outlet, and he realized just how important it was to him.
"As a kid, my passion was always football. But being taken away from the game, I realized that my passion was playing football," Winston explained. "I just missed playing football, being with my teammates, game-planning. Just attacking the field with them.
"This was my first time in my life where -- when I first got to the Saints, I got a chance to sit behind Drew, and took everything slowly -- but this was the first time I was not in the building. I was really removed from it."
The Saints were forced to run through a handful of backup options -- Trevor Siemian, Taysom Hill and one game of desperation from Ian Book -- in an attempt to remain in the playoff hunt with a defense that was certainly worthy of the postseason. But the loss of Winston and absence of notable playmakers elsewhere (e.g., Michael Thomas) proved to be too much to overcome, and also proved to the Saints the importance of having an average-or-better quarterback.
New Orleans changed coaches, bidding Sean Payton adieu after the coach abruptly stepped down, and new coach Dennis Allen made it a priority to retain Winston. In that same period of time, Winston grew famished.
"I just got hungrier," he said. "I got hungrier, 'cause now it's just an admiration and a passion I got for the game, but the hunger I had to be back out there with my teammates."
He's hoping -- well, faithfully stating -- he'll take the field for Allen and the Saints in Atlanta, site of a Week 1 date with the NFC South-rival Falcons.
"I know I'm going to be out there ready and prepared to go," Winston said.