Saints squander midseason momentum with loss to Titans

NEW ORLEANS -- Nothing is going to come easy for the New Orleans Saints this season.

The Saints (4-5) squandered all the momentum from their three-game winning streak by losing at home to the struggling Tennessee Titans on Sunday, in overtime, 34-28.

It was a crazy game that included some bad luck, some bad penalties, some bad pass protection and plenty of bad defense. It easily could have gone the other way, as the Saints missed a 46-yard field goal that might have been blocked in the final minute.

But it didn’t go the other way -- and it illustrated that inconsistency might be the Saints’ biggest enemy this season.

What it means: The worst part of the loss was that New Orleans once again allowed a rookie quarterback to come into the Superdome and get way too comfortable. Tennessee's Marcus Mariota, who hadn’t won a game since Week 1, threw for 371 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions -- including the winning 5-yard touchdown to Anthony Fasano in overtime.

The Saints did not sack Mariota, even though the Titans were leading the NFL with 4.0 sacks per game allowed coming into Sunday.

Crazy TD set the tone: Who knows how the game would have turned out if not for a crazy play when the Saints were leading 14-3 in the first quarter. Saints defensive backs Jairus Byrd and Keenan Lewis collided while trying to intercept an overthrown ball by Mariota on third down. Then Titans tight end Delanie Walker caught the ball out of the air and ran it in 61 yards for a score.

The Saints have now gone 10 straight games without causing an interception at home -- by far the longest streak in the NFL.

Personal-foul frenzy: Both teams benefited from an absurd number of personal-foul and unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties. The Titans were flagged three times for roughing Drew Brees -- once nullifying an interception and once moving the Saints into touchdown range in the fourth quarter. After that last one, Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo was so enraged that he drew two unsportsmanlike-conduct calls, giving the Saints the ball at the 1-yard line.

New Orleans quickly returned the favor, though, with two personal-foul penalties on Tennessee’s next touchdown drive, which tied the game 28-28.

One reason to get excited: Brees and the passing game have definitely found their rhythm after a sluggish start this season. He followed up his 505-yard, seven-touchdown performance last week with 389 yards and three touchdown passes on Sunday. He threw touchdowns on the first two drives -- including a gorgeous 38-yarder to Brandin Cooks. But the offense stalled a bit after that, and Brees’ interception in the end zone in the third quarter proved costly in such a tight game.

One reason to panic: The Saints’ defense started strong with three straight three-and-outs but ran out of steam after that. They were without two starting linebackers (Hau’oli Kikaha and Dannell Ellerbe). But their biggest problems were the lack of pass rush and too many breakdowns in the secondary.

Fantasy watch: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Saints’ season is their inability to get C.J. Spiller involved in the offense. Even after fellow running back Khiry Robinson went down with a season-ending broken leg last week, Spiller only had two carries for 8 yards and one catch for 2 yards. He likely will produce in spurts as the season continues, but it’s hard to predict any consistency.

Ouch: No new injuries were reported during the game, although the Saints had five players inactive, including Kikaha and Ellerbe.