It looked like the Saints might roll like I thought they would, as methodically moved down the field before stalling out inside the 10 for a field goal, then Darren Sproles took a punt 82 yards to the end zone after the Titans went four-and-out. Sproles' punt would be negated by a holding call, though, as we entered the flagfest portion of the game. There would be fourteen more penalties between the two teams before halftime and the Titans first a first-and-thirty-five their next possession.
The big news that drive was Matt Hasselbeck would leave the game with what was later identified as a left calf injury sustained without contact and Jake Locker would come in. Locker had a nice touch pass to Craig Stevens to set up a field goal to tie the game at 3.
The bad news was the Saints' offense started working late in the first half. Lance Moore dropped a TD pass, but they still went up 6-3 at halftime. After the Titans punted to start the second half, Jimmy Graham failed to catch a TD pass (a controversial but correct call that stood up to review) but the field goal put them up 9-3. The next drive, Brees hit Colston in the end zone for a 16-10 lead, and then Colston again for a 22-10 lead. The Titans would stuff the Saints on third down the next two drives, thanks to a sack by Karl Klug and nice pass breakup by Jurrell Casey(!) in coverage(!), though, and give themselves a chance to win.
Of course, beyond that defense, the Titans had to score some points. A Jake Locker scramble and then a 54-yard pass to Damian Williams on a broken tackle against a cover-0 blitz, then Locker's dive into the end zone gave the Titans an improbable lead at 10-9 late in the third quarter. After the Saints took their 22-10 lead, Locker hit Williams for 8, then scrambled for 17 before finding Nate Washington over the top for a touchdown. Locker would be shaken up the next drive, leave the game with an injury, then ruled to have been stopped short on a sneak on fourth down. After the Casey pass breakup, he'd get a final shot. The Titans would make it down to the 5 before his final two passes fell incomplete and the Saints came away with the win. And with the Texans' win today, the Titans can't win the division, so it's wild card or bust.
I'll be writing in depth about Locker's play this week. After the jump, the normal other player notes and the like.
- I thought Chris Johnson ran effectively, but he didn't find much rushing room and ended up with some pretty dismal numbers.
- Nate Washington won the "wheel of Titans receivers" this week. Great gutty effort by him. He missed the final two plays of the game, though, and I have to think he'd have been Locker's target on at least one of those passes.
- I'd like to see Craig Stevens run a pass route more often, but that's a subject that deserves a post of its own.
- Lots of credit to the defense today, for disrupting Brees' routes downfield and keeping the Saints in a lot of check.
- Notwithstanding that, if Moore and Graham catch balls they should catch, the game is 31-10 instead of 22-10, and the story we're telling is a lot different than the one we're telling right now. Still, credit to Chris Hawkins in particular.
- The Titans looked like a M*A*S*H unit for a while. Javon Ringer missed most of the game with a hand injury. Gerald McRath missed most of the game with left knee and apparently ankle injuries. Hasselbeck's left calf injury was bothering him when he came back in for one play in the fourth quarter. Locker obviously missed a play with injured ribs. Akeem Ayers left the game with an injury.
- I highlighted Karl Klug pregame for a reason, and he had two sacks today. One of them was a coverage sack, but the one on third down late in the game was huge.
- The Saints force defensive backs to tackle. The Titans' did, as Verner, Finnegan, and Griffin led the team in tackles.
- Mike Munchak again cost the Titans a chance to get points. The Titans took two timeouts to the locker room at the end of the first half, as Munchak opted not to use a timeout and the Saints burned the clock down to prevent the Titans from having time to work with. At least Sean Payton made a blunder of his own in having Brees pass with 1:40 to play and the Titans out of timeouts. That blunder, though, was offset by the Titans' idiotic draw play that cost them :22 with :50 to play and gained zero yards.
- Just as a friendly reminder, the Saints are 28th in the league in pass defense efficiency.