NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Even if Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota was too beat up to play in recent weeks, he seemed to find a way to keep improving.
And just because the Titans often looked hapless during a six-game skid that got their coach fired, that didn't mean they were no longer inclined to play with pride and relentless effort.
On the road against a New Orleans Saints squad with a lot at stake, the Titans rode a promising performance by Mariota — along with a handful of timely defensive and special-teams plays — to a 34-28 overtime victory Sunday.
"I'm just proud of them — really, really proud," said interim Titans coach Mike Mularkey, who took over this past week for Ken Whisenhunt. "They really needed that. ... This has been an emotional week."
Mariota, who'd missed the previous two games with a sprained knee, conceded that the Titans (2-6) benefited from a fortunate break on his first touchdown pass — a 61-yarder to Delanie Walker that probably should have been intercepted. But there was nothing lucky about the way the game ended. The former Oregon Heisman Trophy winner completed all five passes he threw in overtime, ending with a 5-yard touchdown to Anthony Fasano in which Mariota rolled right, then threw back across the field to the left.
"Our team just stayed composed. They really believed in each other and for us moving forward that's what we need," said Mariota, who finished 28 for 39 for a personal-best 371 yards and four TDs. "This team, each and every week of practice, continues to work hard. So we'll keep doing that and hopefully we will keep pulling out some of these wins."
New Orleans had looked intent on climbing back into contention with wins in three straight and four of five coming into their home date with reeling Tennessee. Instead, thanks to a slew of mistakes on offense, defense and special teams, they've got a losing record again (4-5) and an ever-thinning margin for error.
"Forget the records. It's frustrating that we lost this game because of ... penalties, turnovers, and just not making the plays that we need to make," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.
Here are some things to know about the Saints' collapse against the re-invigorated Titans:
THE BREAKS: Mariota didn't take a sack and didn't turn the ball over, but conceded he got a big break when safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Keenan Lewis prevented one another from what looked like a certain interception. The ball bounced away from them and straight to Walker, who ran free for Tennessee's first TD. Mariota said he tried to heave the ball out of bounds. "Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good," he said.
Byrd said there was no one to blame for the defensive gaffe, adding that the play was not comparable to a pop-fly in baseball in which fielders can communicate without concern for proximity of opposing players.
"It was not like you say, 'You take it. I take it,'" Byrd said. "You can't call it. You just go for it."
BATTERED BREES: Brees passed for 387 yards and three touchdowns, including a 38-yard score to Brandin Cooks, but he also got hit a lot and rushed into some mistakes. He was intercepted by B.W. Webb, who was recently promoted from the Titans practice squad, on a throw toward the end zone. He was sacked four times and took several other vicious hits on which Tennessee was flagged for roughing the quarterback.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Both teams' kickers missed potential go-ahead field goal tries in the final 2 minutes of regulation. Tennessee's Ryan Succop hit the cross bar on what would have been a career long 55-yarder, then New Orleans' Kai Forbath had a 46-yard attempt partially blocked by Coty Sensabaugh. The Saints also lost a fumble on Marcus Murphy's punt return, setting up Succop's 51-yard field goal in the first quarter.
WALKING TALL: Tennessee's Walker finished with 7 catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a quick slant for a critical 2-point conversion that tied the game at 28 in the fourth quarter.
PLAYOFFS?: Even at four games under .500, the Titans remain just 1 1/2 games behind AFC South leader Indianapolis (4-5), which beat Denver on Sunday. The Saints are two games behind Atlanta (6-3) for the final NFC Wild Card spot after the Falcons lost to San Francisco.