NASHVILLE, Tenn. ― New Orleans much maligned defense gave up everything but a touchdown, ending the 22-17 win over Tennessee with a coverage sack on Jake Locker as the Titans were trying to score from the Saints five-yard line as the clock ran out.
After Drew Brees was nearly picked off in Saints territory with less than two minutes to go and nursing the five-point lead, the Saints let the Titans move down the field with ease, completing a 25-yard pass on the first play of the drive and a 40-yard toss to Nate Washington who nearly took it in for the score, only being knocked down at the five after three hits by Saints defensive backs that had him moving around like a silver ball in a pinball machine.
Tracy Porter made a key stop on a second and goal play from the five, knocking away a pass that would have been the game winner for the Titans.
On the next play, Locker was pressured and couldn't find a receiver, before being sacked to end the game.
The Saints benefitted from Locker's late game inexperience as he let plenty of time run off the clock between plays on the final drive and the Titans curiously ran the ball on 1st and 10 at the Saints 45 when they were out of timeouts.
That furious sequence came after it seemed the defense had already preserved the win stopping Tennessee on fourth-and-one from New Orleans' 24 with 2:32 to play in the game.
While much of the pre-game chatter dealt with whether or not tight end Jimmy Graham would play, all questions were answered when he entered on the fourth play of the game.
Regardless of which tight end was in the game, though, the Saints did what they've done for much of the season marched down the field and scored.
But it was a field goal instead of a touchdown. A penalty on second-and-nine pushed the Saints back to the Titans' 14 and New Orleans couldn't get back inside the five, settling for 25-yard John Kasay kick and a 3-0 lead.
A penalty nullified the biggest play of the first quarter when Michael Higgins was called for holding on an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown by Darren Sproles. Instead of a 10-0 lead, the Saints punted on the series.
Tennessee made New Orleans pay for the mistake late in the second quarter on Rob Bironas' 43-yard field goal, tying the game 3-3.
The Saints re-took the lead with seconds to play in the first half on a 29-yard Kasay field goal. It could have been a bigger cushion, but on first-and-goal from the 5, quarterback Drew Brees took a seven-yard sack. Receiver Lance Moore couldn't haul in a pass on third-and-goal and Kasay was forced to kick the field goal.
New Orleans pushed its lead to 9-3 with 3:51 to go in the third quarter, though some might question whether tight end Jimmy Graham's four-yard catch in the end zone was ruled incomplete. Officials said confirmed the ruling on the field, forcing Kasay's kick.
Tennessee took its first lead with minutes left in the third quarter. Two missed tackles allowed the Titans to drive 78 yards in six plays. First, cornerback Tracy Porter missed a 10-yard sack that Tennessee quarterback Jack Locker turned into a 12-yard gain. Then, Saints cornerback Patrick Robison missed Damian Williams, who turned the could-be short gain into a 54-yard reception. 1 play later, Locker scored on a 6-yard touchdown run for a 10-9 Titans lead.
The Saints wasted little time re-taking the lead, driving 72 yards in nine plays, capped by a 35-yard touchdown pass from Brees to receiver Marques Colston. New Orleans converted two third downs on the possession.
New Orleans extended its lead a series later after the defense forced a three-and-out. Once again, Colston caught the touchdown pass, this time a 28-yarder past Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner. The two-point conversion was stuffed and New Orleans was up 22-10 with 7:01 to go.
The double-digit lead didn't last long. Locker found receiver Nate Washington behind Saints linebacker Will Herring for a 40-yard touchdown strike, pulling the Titans to within 22-17 with only 5:58 to go in the game.