NASHVILLE (WAFB) - New Orleans overcame early offensive struggles and penalties to get past the Titans on Sunday.
The Saints (12-3) outlasted the Titans (8-7), 38-28.
Wide receiver Michael Thomas had 12 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown. He now has the NFL all-time record of receptions in a single season with 145. He passed former Colts pass-catcher Marvin Harrison, who had 143 in 2002.
Quarterback Drew Brees was 27-of-38 for 279 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Alvin Kamara had 11 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 25 yards. Tight end Jared Cook had three catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
The Saints defense recorded five sacks and eight tackles for loss. The defenders got six hits on the quarterback. They also had a crucial fumble recovery.
The Titans received the opening kickoff and the Saints defense was in attack mode from the start. They recorded a tackle for loss and a sack on a three-and-out drive that went for -1 yard. The Saints managed a first down on its initial possession but was forced to punt after gaining a total of 11 yards on the drive. Tennessee had much more success on its second possession, torching the New Orleans defense on a 5-play, 73-yard drive that culminated in a 41-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to tight end Jonnu Smith to make it 7-0 with 7:55 left in the first quarter. Tannehill was 3-of-3 for 72 yards on the drive.
On the ensuing kickoff, rookie Pro Bowl selection Deonte Harris went 41 yards to set up the Saints at their own 43-yard line. New Orleans was unable to capitalize, though. On third-and-18, the Titans got tremendous pressure on Brees and dropped him for a 7-yard sack. The Titans came back with another quick scoring drive, only needing three plays to go 70 yards. It was capped off with a reverse to wide receiver A.J. Brown that went for a 49-yard touchdown to make it 14-0 with 4:50 left in the first. After the touchdown run, Saints cornerback Eli Apple limped off the field and was tended to by the training staff. Janoris Jenkins, who was claimed off waivers from the Giants on December 16, was called into action.
New Orleans was able to drive to the Tennessee 20-yard line but on third-and-eight, Brees was sacked again and the Saints had to settle for a 47-yard field goal by Wil Lutz to make it 14-3 with 13:36 remaining in the half. The Saints defense then forced a three-and-out and allowed the offense to try to put more points on the board. However, the Saints were not able to get anything going on the drive. Both teams then went three-and-out on their next possessions. The Titans were trying to put together a drive but the Saints defense buckled down after giving up a few chunks of yards. Both Cam Jordan and Demario Davis recorded sacks on the drive.
The big defensive plays may have lit a spark for the offense because, on the first play of the next possession for the Saints, Brees hooked up with Cook for a 61-yard touchdown to make it 14-10 with 2:23 left in the half. The Titans tried to eat up the clock before halftime to prevent the Saints from having another possession but on third-and-two, Carl Granderson got deep penetration and tackled running back Dalyn Dawkins for a 5-yard loss. The Saints were only left with :18 and weren’t able to score before halftime.
New Orleans received the opening kickoff of the second half and wasted no time scoring to take the lead. On the third play of the drive, Brees handed to Kamara, who exploded through a great hole by the offensive line, and out-ran the defense on his way to a 40-yard touchdown to give the Saints the 17-14 lead only 1:00 into the third quarter. It was Kamara’s longest run of the season and the third-longest of his career. The Saints defense stepped up big once again and forced another Titans punt.
The Saints went to work again and carved up the Titans defense on a 9-play, 70-yard drive that finished with a 1-yard touchdown run by Kamara to extend the lead to 24-14 with 7:08 left in the third. The Titans responded quickly with a 5-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Tannehill connected with wide receiver Tajae Sharpe for a 36-yard touchdown to make it 24-21 with 4:25 left in the third. On the kickoff, Harris showed why he's a Pro Bowler, just in his rookie season. He returned it 47 yards to the New Orleans 48-yard line to get the drive started near midfield. Saints head coach Sean Payton decided to use his "Swiss Army Knife," also known as Taysom Hill. On a third-and-one, Hill took a handoff four yards for a first down. On the very next play, he caught a 23-yard pass to put the Saints in the red zone. Brees then hooked up with Cook again for a 16-yard touchdown to put the Saints up 31-21 with 1:18 left in the third.
On Tennessee’s next possession, the Saints defense gave up some yards but once again forced a Titans punt. Brees and the offense then took over at the New Orleans 9-yard line. They actually went backward and had to punt from the endzone. It gave the Titans excellent field position, starting at the New Orleans 42-yard line. The Titans were able to capitalize on the field position and scored on another strike from Tannehill to Sharpe. This one was from seven yards out. The touchdown made it 31-28 with 7:27 left in the game.
After gaining 34 yards, the Saints tried a fake punt on fourth-and-seven from the Tennessee 38-yard line but Hill’s pass hit Justin Hardee right in the face mask and he missed it. On the very next play, Tannehill hit Kalif Raymond for a big gain but the ball popped out and C.J. Garner-Johnson recovered for the Saints.
On the next drive, Brees found Thomas for a 13-yard connection to break the all-time record and then, two plays later, the pair hooked up again for a 2-yard touchdown to put the Saints up 38-28 with 2:04 remaining in the game.
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