Mariota, Titans beat Saints in overtime 34-28
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Interim Tennessee Titans coach Mike Mularkey paused for a moment and took a deep breath while he regained his composure.
The clutch play of rookie Marcus Mariota and the relentless effort of his beat-up defense meant that much to him.
Mariota passed for a personal-best 371 yards and four touchdowns, including a 5-yard scoring pass to Anthony Fasano in overtime, and Tennessee snapped a six-game skid with a 34-28 victory over New Orleans on Sunday.
''I'm still shaking,'' Mularkey said. ''It was an absolutely great win for this team. They are so competitive and want to win so badly. Never once did they ever flinch. We kept coming back and we had to find a way to win this game.''
The Saints (4-5), who had won three in a row, led 21-10 but could not put away the Titans (2-6), who turned in a feisty performance in their first game since coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired and replaced by Mularkey.
''Obviously, when you lose like that in overtime, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said. ''It was a game, despite the imperfections and how we played, we had a chance still at the end and we weren't able to execute.''
Sunday also marked Mariota's return from a knee sprain that sidelined him for two games. He completed 28 of 39 passes, at times converting quick, decisive throws under pressure. He was not sacked, sometimes rolling away from pressure to buy more time, and did not turn the ball over.
Mariota said he didn't want to overstate the significance of one victory, but added, ''After this hectic week of ours, to pull out this win is huge.''
Brees was 28 of 39 for 387 yards and three touchdowns. He also scored on a short keeper.
However, he was sacked four times and intercepted on a third-quarter pass to the end zone that was intended for Mark Ingram. Instead, it found Tennessee's B.W. Webb, who had been moved up from the practice squad a day earlier because of injuries to defensive backs Jason McCourty (groin) and Blidi Wreh-Wilson (hamstring).
Both teams missed go-ahead field goal attempts in the last two minutes of regulation. Tennessee's Ryan Succop hit the cross bar on a 55-yard try that would have been a career long. Then Kai Forbath, who a week earlier had kicked a game-winning field goal, had his 46-yard attempt partially blocked by Coty Sensabaugh.
The Saints had won four of five to get back to .500 after an 0-3 start. But like last season, when they also climbed back to 4-4 after a poor start, they lost a fourth-quarter lead at home - and then the game in overtime.
''When you lose the turnover battle, which we did today, when you can't execute a simple field goal, it's going to be up and down,'' Payton said. ''To get that consistency that we're looking for, we're going to have to be better in a lot of areas.''
Tennessee had to overcome its own lack of discipline. One roughing-the-passer flag wiped out an interception in the first half, while two others gave the Saints first-and-goal on a pair of touchdown drives. Tennessee also was called for unsportsmanlike conduct several times for arguing with officials.
The Saints took a 28-20 lead on Brees' short pass to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui shortly after Brian Orakpo was called for a double unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing a flag thrown against teammate David Bass for a high hit on a sack.
The Titans responded with Mariota's 8-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter, followed by a 2-point conversion to Delanie Walker, who also caught a pair of touchdown passes and finished with seven receptions for 95 yards.
Brees completed eight of his first 10 passes for 150 yards and touchdowns of 10 yards to Josh Hill and 38 yards to Brandin Cooks.
The Titans did not gain a first down on their first two possessions and gained only 29 yards on their first 10 plays, but Marcus Murphy's fumble on a Saints punt return set up Succop's 51-yard field goal.
Later, the Saints essentially gifted Tennessee a touchdown when defensive backs Jairus Byrd and Keenan Lewis fought over what looked like a certain interception. The ball popped into the arms of Walker, who ran free for a 61-yard touchdown.
''The stands was the target, to be honest,'' Mariota said. ''They brought pressure and we weren't able to pick it up. I was trying to throw it away. ... Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.''
NOTES: Mariota's 13 TDs this season are the most ever by a Titans rookie. ... Cornerback Perrish Cox left in the second half. Mularkey said his hamstring was tightening up.
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