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Saints have no defense for getting exploited by rookie Marcus Mariota

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Marcus Mariota outguns Drew Brees (1:39)

NFL Nation reporters Paul Kuharsky and Mike Triplett hand out game balls to the QBs after Titans rookie Marcus Mariota one-upped Drew Brees in an overtime stunner. (1:39)

NEW ORLEANS -- That wacky play in the first quarter Sunday, when two New Orleans Saints defenders collided and turned a sure interception into a 61-yard touchdown catch by the Tennessee Titans? Well, that was just plain old bad luck.

But what about Tennessee's other eight plays that gained 20 yards or more?

That was just plain old bad defense.

The Saints (4-5) allowed rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota to come into the Superdome and tear them up on Sunday during a 34-28 loss to the Titans, who hadn't won a game since Week 1 and just fired their coach on Tuesday.

Mariota threw for 371 yards, four touchdowns and a two-point conversion pass. This comes on the heels of Eli Manning's six-touchdown performance in the Giants' 52-49 loss to the Saints in the Superdome last week.

As of Sunday night, the Saints ranked 31st in the NFL in yards allowed (414.8 per game) and points allowed (29.8 per game).

The Saints didn't sack Mariota, even though the Titans were leading the NFL in sacks allowed per game. And the Saints forced no interceptions (well, they didn't catch any interceptions, anyway).

"Can't keep letting it happen," Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis said after Mariota became the second rookie quarterback to come into the Superdome this season and win, following Jameis Winston in Week 2.

"We've got to rally as a team. We've got to find a way to put pressure on those guys, especially a rookie quarterback," Lewis said. "He sat out a couple games [with a knee injury the past two weeks]; he's still inexperienced. You've got to make him pay, period."

Lewis clarified that he did not mean the pass rush specifically when he used the word pressure. And he's right -- the Saints' coverage was way too generous on Sunday as well.

Mariota made it look downright easy as he drove his team 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

He made it look too easy all day.

"We'll look at the tape and see how we did with our [pass] rush. It was kind of frustrating," Saints coach Sean Payton said in a subdued tone while rattling off a list of such frustrations following the game. "We played some zone and some man coverage. We just struggled getting off the field.

"And obviously when you lose like that in overtime, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth."

Payton didn't just single out the defense on a day when there was plenty of blame to go around.

He might have been even more perturbed by the botched 46-yard field goal that could have won the game with less than a minute remaining. He pointed to losing the turnover battle 2-1. And he was disappointed by a Saints run game that averaged less than three yards per carry.

But if we're assigning power rankings to each of these problem areas, the defense is still bringing up the rear nine weeks into the season.

The Saints are right back where they were last year, when they also finished 31st in total defense. Payton decided to keep embattled defensive coordinator Rob Ryan after last season's debacle. But he instructed Ryan to simplify his scheme to cut down on mental errors and brought in senior assistant Dennis Allen to help teach the secondary.

The Saints are still a young, developing defense that includes three rookies and one other first-year player who played in Canada last season in the starting lineup. And they have had some nice moments, including a total of six three-and-outs in Sunday's game against the Titans.

But the inconsistency is maddening.

The pass rush that had finally come alive with 12 sacks in the past three weeks completely vanished Sunday. Losing rookie outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha to an ankle injury this week hurt, but still, the Saints needed a better plan and better execution.

Meanwhile, the Saints' linebackers couldn't seem to locate Tennessee's tight ends in pass coverage all day; they combined for 12 catches, 153 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner.

And the Saints' secondary was just as up-and-down, highlighted by that collision between Lewis and safety Jairus Byrd when they both had a chance to make an interception while leading 14-3.

"It just happened. We were both going for the ball," said Byrd, who explained that it's not like going for a pop fly in baseball. "This isn't, 'Oh, you take it, I take it.' You just go for the ball."

Clearly, it wasn't meant to be. The Saints have now gone 10 straight home games without an interception, by far the longest streak in the NFL.

Worse yet, the Saints have now gone 25 straight games without managing to get over that .500 hump.

That won't change until they can get more consistency from their defense.