METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Coming off a frustrating overtime loss to Tennessee, the New Orleans Saints remained calm on Monday.
They understood the potential ramifications of having their three-game winning streak stopped by a struggling team that ended its own six-game skid. They also felt it was too soon to panic, with almost half the season left, giving them enough time to correct the errors that plagued them against the Titans.
“The sky’s not falling today,” coach Sean Payton insisted. “It’s one game, and it’s disappointing.”
Just as in 2014 against San Francisco, the Saints (4-5) lost in overtime at home after recovering from a slow start to get to 4-4. But the similarity ended there, they insisted.
A year ago, offensive tackle Zach Strief openly questioned some of his teammates’ focus, and New Orleans never climbed above .500.
After Sunday’s 34-28 disappointment, Strief said the only issue was execution as the Saints began preparing for a trip to Washington (3-5).
“The energy, the effort and the desire were right,” he said. “I don’t think you can watch that game and say there was an emotional letdown. At the end of the day, we made too many mistakes.”
Every unit contributed to the defeat for the Saints, who led by 11 twice in the first half and never trailed until the Titans scored in overtime.
The defense allowed 487 yards and now ranks last in the NFL in yards allowed per play (6.5). New Orleans also fell to the bottom of the league in pass efficiency defense as Titans rookie Marcus Mariota threw for a season-best 371 yards.
Tennessee’s 34 points almost matched its total of 36 for the previous four games.
The Saints failed to sack Mariota after registering 12 QB takedowns during their three-game win streak.
“Some of it was with his (quick) release time, but there are others where we’d get out of our rush lanes and lose containment,” Payton said. “That’s happened repeatedly. It’s a concern.”
The Saints, who scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, managed only seven more points in their final seven series. Drew Brees threw for 389 yards, but New Orleans averaged only 2.3 yards rushing on 26 carries. Brees was sacked four times, and a fifth sack was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty.
Late in regulation, Brian Orakpo blitzed untouched to sack Brees when New Orleans had a first down at the Tennessee 33. That breakdown forced the Saints to scramble to get back in field goal range, and they did not pick up a first down, settling for a 46-yard field attempt.
“If we don’t make that mistake, there’s no doubt in my mind we end up closer to the 5 worrying about scoring a touchdown,” Strief said. “Instead, we’re in a situation where we’re putting it on our kickers again.”
Kai Forbath, whose 50-yarder as time ran out beat the New York Giants a week earlier, never had a chance on this one. Coty Sensabaugh tipped it while rushing from the right side.
“It was a low snap and the protection was poor,” Payton said. “We put ourselves in position to win the game. Honestly, we have to be able to function there.”
Tennessee scored its first points on a field goal after Marcus Murphy fumbled on a punt return for the second straight week.
“Turnovers lead to negative results,” Murphy said. “You have to protect the ball or you’re out of the league.”
Payton pointed to the fluky 61-yard touchdown Tennessee scored off a deflection in the first half as something out of the Saints’ control. Defensive backs Keenan Lewis and Jarius Byrd collided trying to make an interception, and the ball went right into tight end Delanie Walker’s hands.
Those are things that are frustrating, and yet we can’t lose this thing twice or three times,” Payton said. “We didn’t play well enough and we didn’t coach well enough. We have to get the corrections made and then get ready to play Washington.”
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