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John DeShazier: Sean Payton still looking for consistency from Saints this season

Too many self-inflicted wounds in 34-28 overtime loss to Titans

The task of the New Orleans Saints did not become Sisyphean on Sunday. The rock totally didn't roll back to the bottom of the hill after it had been pushed halfway up.

But their 34-28, overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome constituted a significant rollback for a team that had won three straight games and four of its last five, had designs on hurdling .500 for the first time since the end of the 2013 season, and was facing a foe that had lost six straight.

Instead, New Orleans (4-5) lost its second home game this season to one of the quarterbacks picked 1 and 2 in the 2015 NFL Draft – Jameis Winston went first to Tampa Bay, Marcus Mariota went second to the Titans – and will look to even its record with a road win against Washington before entering its bye week.

A 5-yard touchdown pass from Mariota (28 for 39 for 371 yards and four touchdowns) to tight end Anthony Fasano was the game-winner, 5:10 into overtime.

"Obviously, it's a disappointing loss," Coach Sean Payton said. "Those guys hung in there – credit (the Titans) for battling back like they were able to.

"I felt early on we had our opportunities to get out ahead a score or two more, and all of a sudden we've got a turnover and a sequence where about two or three things happen, the second half comes and we struggle with some protections, we can't get off the field defensively, we get in field goal range, then we get a kick blocked. We fumble a return – just enough of those things that keep you from winning."

As Payton alluded, the Saints did a couple of games' worth of foot-shooting Sunday.

Returner Marcus Murphy fumbled a punt return that the Titans recovered and converted into a field goal. Cornerback Keenan Lewis and safety Jairus Byrd collided on a served-on-a-platter interception; instead of a pick, their tip was snagged by Titans tight end Delanie Walker and converted into a 61-yard touchdown pass from Mariota. Two more tipped passes also were caught by Walker.

Kai Forbath's potential game-winning, 46-yard field goal attempt with 1:01 left was blocked by Tennessee cornerback Coty Sensabaugh. Quarterback Drew Brees was battered as severely as he has been this season; sacked four times, hit twice more – once low, once high – that drew roughing the passer penalties and banged around several other times by a relentless pass rush, he entered his postgame news conference with facial wounds that were consistent with the helmet-to-helmet blow that drew a penalty, and a handful of other pops that didn't.

And a promising defensive start – two three-and-outs posted on Tennessee's first two possessions – deteriorated into the Titans rolling up 483 yards and converting five of their final 11 third-down chances, including the only one they faced in overtime.

"There's not a lot of wiggle room when you start off the way we started (this season)," Payton said. "When you lose the turnover battle, can't execute just a simple field goal, it's going to be up and down.

"To get that consistency that we're looking for we're going to have to be better in a lot of areas, or else it's going to be a kind of a streaky, here-and-there type of deal. We've got to improve. There are a number of things that are frustrating about this loss."

The Saints took a 14-3 lead on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Brees (28 for 39 for 387 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception) to Brandin Cooks (four catches, 71 yards) with 3:44 left in the first quarter.

And after Tennessee drove from its 25 to the 39 on three plays and a Saints penalty, Mariota threw a lob pass that was set to become one of the easiest interceptions of Lewis' career. But Byrd raced over, the two Saints collided and popped the ball loose, and Walker (seven catches, 95 yards, two touchdowns) grabbed the gift midair and ran the final 39 yards untouched, aided by a big peel-back block.

"There's nothing really to say," Byrd said. "You just go for the ball. It's not a pop fly, you can't call it. You just go for it."

Said Payton: "There's not a lot you can say to your guys when something like that happens. They're going to high-point the ball and there's a collision. You've just got to get back and keep working, keep hustling. Obviously, it was a big play in the game and you hope to overcome it."

Actually, the Saints nicely overcame it on offense. Brees directed a 10-play, 79-yard touchdown drive on the next possession and capped it with a 1-yard dive over the top.

But the Saints stalled offensively from there, and the Titans (2-6) ramped up.

Mariota led a more conventional touchdown drive on Tennessee's next possession – a five-play, 77-yarder ended on his 2-yard pass to Walker to cut New Orleans' lead to 21-17 with 8:08 left in the first half.

The Titans pulled to within 21-20 on Ryan Succop's 29-yard field goal on their first possession of the second half, and neither team scored the rest of the third quarter. But the Saints began a drive that spilled over into the fourth, and culminated with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Michael Hoomanawanui that bumped the Saints' advantage to 28-20 with 11:32 left.

New Orleans didn't score again.

The Titans immediately responded, having the field shortened by a 32-yard kickoff return and 15-yard personal foul on linebacker Michael Mauti during the return. With 57 yards to drive, Tennessee needed eight plays (and a roughing the passer penalty) to score on Mariota's 8-yard pass to receiver Justin Hunter, and to tie the score at 28 with Mariota's two-point conversion pass to Walker.

New Orleans punted to end its next possession, and Tennessee drove from its 11 to New Orleans' 37 where the drive stalled. Succop attempted a 55-yard field goal to give the Titans the lead, but it hit the front of the crossbar and bounced back into the end zone.

With 1:55 left and first down at their own 45, the Saints worked their way to the Titans' 28-yard line to set up Forbath, but his 46-yard attempt was blocked with 1:01 left.

"It's hard to tell (what happened) without seeing it on film," Payton said. "You don't know if the trajectory was low, if the hold was clean – I'm not sure."

In overtime, the Titans won the toss, chose to receive and never gave the Saints offense a chance to respond. They drove 80 yards on nine plays, converting on third-and-2 from the Saints' 17 with a 9-yard pass, and ended on a misdirection touchdown where Mariota rolled to his right and found Fasano crossing toward the left corner of the end zone.

"It's frustrating that we lost this game because of…penalties, turnovers, and just not making the plays that we need to make," Brees said. "I know we can run the ball better. I know we can stop the run better. All of those things that mean winning in football, we didn't do enough of."

Photos from the New Orleans Saints vs Tennessee Titans game. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

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