Nashville, Tenn. - The New Orleans Saints came away with a hard-fought 38-28 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Dec. 22 at Nissan Stadium.
The victory improved the NFC South champ's record to 12-3, 6-1 on the road, and increased their winning streak against AFC opponents to 11 games. The Saints remain in the mix for a top two seed in the NFC playoffs and the bye week that comes with it.
Saints receiver Michael Thomas continued his assault on the league record books - and opposing teams - as he set two NFL records. The fourth-year receiver set the NFL's single-season receptions record with his 11th reception, a 13-yard catch with 3:06 to play. Thomas scored later in the drive on a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Brees to give the Saints a 38-28 lead with 2:10 to play and move his season total to 145 catches, two more than Marvin Harrison's old mark.
Thomas had 12 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown. It is Thomas' 15th game with 10 or more catches in his career. He also set the record for most yardage in the first four seasons of a career with 5,475. Randy Moss held the previous mark.
The Saints trailed 14-0 in the first quarter after the Titans (8-7) scored on back-to-back big plays. But New Orleans woke up in the second quarter, jump-started by Wil Lutz's franchise-record 32nd field of the season and then a 61-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jared Cook, which made it 14-10 at halftime.
New Orleans opened the second half with a 40-yard touchdown run by Alvin Kamara (his first since the win over Seattle) and then added a 1-yard Kamara touchdown run and a 16-yard touchdown pass to Cook.
Tennessee wouldn't go away, as it scored two second half touchdowns, both to receiver Tajae Sharpe, one from 36 yards and the second from seven yards. But safety C.J. Gardner Johnson forced and recovered a fumble by Kalif Raymond to put the Saints in excellent field position. New Orleans cashed in on the turnover with Brees' touchdown pass to Thomas.
New Orleans entered the game without injured strong safety Vonn Bell and starting defensive linemen Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport and then lost two more defensive backs to injury as cornerback Eli Apple and safety Marcus Williams left with injuries. But the defense was able to pressure Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill, sacking him five times. Star defensive end Cam Jordan had one, moving his season total to 14.5, making him the fourth player in Saints history with 14 or more sacks.
Kick returner Deonte Harris, who was named to the Pro Bowl last week, had an excellent game, consistently giving the Saints good field position.
"Those returns … had a lot to do with us winning the game," Coach Sean Payton said.
It was Kamara's best game of the season as the veteran from Tennessee ran the ball 11 times for 80 yards and caught six passes for 30 yards. Brees was 27 of 38 for 279 yards and three touchdowns as he extended his lead over Tom Brady for career touchdown passes (544 to 539).
The Saints will close out the regular season noon Sunday, Dec. 29 at the Carolina Panthers. It's unlikely that the NFC playoff seedings will be known until the Seattle Seahawks-San Francisco 49ers game ends. It has been flexed to the Sunday night game for Week 17.
For game stats click here.