NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis looked up to see Tennessee rookie Marcus Mariota's attempted throwaway coming right at him.
New Orleans safety Jairus Byrd thought he had a good shot at it, too.
In a play reminiscent of the bumbling Saints of old, the defenders prevented each other from catching the ball, and it deflected straight into the arms of Delanie Walker, who ran free for a 61-yard touchdown.
That was perhaps the most spectacular of several mistakes in a 34-28 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday which ended New Orleans' winning streak at three.
The final blow came when Mariota found Anthony Fasano for a 5-yard touchdown on the first possession of the extra period.
If the Saints (4-5) wind up narrowly missing the playoffs, their upset loss at the hands of the reeling Titans (2-6) could be tough to forget.
"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."
The Saints turned the ball over twice, once on Marcus Murphy's fumbled punt return, which led to a Tennessee field goal. Brees also was intercepted on a pass toward the Titans' end zone intended for Mark Ingram, but instead to B.W. Webb, who was brought up from Tennessee's practice squad a day earlier. The Saints still had a chance to take a late lead when Kai Forbath set up for a 46-yard field goal with a minute left, but his kick was partially blocked by Coty Sensabaugh.
"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."
Byrd called the loss "really tough," but also said there wasn't anyone to blame for the botched interception, explaining he was "trying to make a play on the ball and people were there."
"Obviously, it's unfortunate. It just happens," Byrd continued, stressing that the play cannot be compared to a fly ball in baseball, in which teammates can communicate without worrying about the opposing team's players in close proximity.
"It was not like you say, 'You take it. I take it,'" Byrd said. "You can't call it. You just go for it."
Nearby, cornerback Brandon Browner heard the questions about the play and berated reporters for asking about the first-quarter gaffe in a game that wasn't decided until overtime.
Mariota said he was just trying to throw the ball out of play. Instead, he wound up with the first of four touchdown passes on the day and a good chunk of his personal-best 371 yards passing.
"Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good," Mariota said.
The Saints led 21-10 but could not put away the Titans, who turned in a feisty performance in their first game since coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired and replaced by Mike Mularkey.
Brees was 28 of 39 for 387 yards and three touchdowns. He also scored on a short keeper, but also was under a lot of pressure and sacked four times. His day could have been worse if not for multiple roughing-the-passer penalties against the Titans that wiped out an interception and a sack.
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.
"They deserved to win. They played better than we did down the stretch," Saints tight end Ben Watson said. "When you have a chance to put a team away you have to in this league, because everybody's good and everybody can come back."
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Posted on Mon, November 9, 2015
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer