NEW ORLEANS — The Titans missed Marcus Mariota.
In his return on Sunday, the rookie quarterback didn't miss a beat – even if the hearts of the team's fans probably did.
Mariota threw for 371 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-28 overtime win over the Saints. He handled the pressure of his first overtime game without flinching, delivering a game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Fasano in overtime to snap the team's six-game losing streak.
"It is incredible,'' Mariota said afterward. "It is one week, we understand that, but throughout this hectic week of ours, to pull out this win was huge…There's a lot of excitement."
Mariota, who missed the previous two games with a knee injury, completed 28-of-39 passes in the contest.
He did his best work in the clutch – Mariota was 6-of-6 for 62 yards in overtime while guiding the Titans on a nine-play, 80-yard drive. He was 5-of-5 for 51 yards on the game-tying drive, which ended with an eight-yard touchdown pass to receiver Justin Hunter, and a 2-point conversion pass to tight end Delanie Walker, which tied the game at 28-28 with 7:06 left.
"He is a real tough kid and we respect him,'' Fasano said. "He's one of the younger guys but he is still one of our leaders. We're glad to have him back and he played a big part in our win today."
Mariota admitted he had to get used to the speed of the game upon his return. He hadn't played since October 18, when he was injured early in the second quarter of the team's loss to the Dolphins.
But he settled in.
With four touchdown passes, Mariota broke Vince Young's franchise record for the most touchdown passes as a rookie. Young recorded 12 in his rookie season in 2006.
Mariota became just the second player in NFL history to pass for 350-plus yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions with a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime.
"He is a warrior, man,'' receiver Harry Douglas said of Mariota. "Today I saw him be more vocal in the huddle, being more aggressive and getting everybody on one accord. The ceiling is so high for that guy."
Consider Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey among those impressed with the youngster's resilience.
"I think he has shown, not just this game, but earlier games, we are always in it,'' Mularkey said. "We are always in the game."
The Titans fell behind 14-3 on Sunday, and also trailed 21-10 in the second quarter. But the team kept battling back. Mariota threw two touchdown passes to Walker, including a 61-yarder that cut the lead to 14-10. It was a bizarre play – on a deep ball, two Saints defenders had a chance to intercept Mariota's pass, but the ball bounced off of them, and Walker plucked the ball out of the air and raced to the end zone.
Afterward, Mariota admitted he was trying to throw the ball away.
"The stands was the target to be honest with you guys,'' Mariota said with a smile. "They brought pressure…and honestly I was trying to throw it away. Right when I threw it, I was like 'I didn't put enough on it.' The ball kind of bounced our way.
"Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. We got a lucky break there."
Mariota found eight different targets on the day. Walker led the way with seven catches for 95 yards, but Dorial Green-Beckham (5-77) and Douglas (5-73) also had big days.
The Titans, a week after allowing Zach Mettenberger to be sacked seven times in Houston, did a great job protecting Mariota – he wasn't sacked once. Mariota was sacked 19 times in his first five starts.
"The guy is a hell of quarterback when he is protected,'' tackle Taylor Lewan said.
Mariota said he hopes the Titans can build momentum with the win.
Walker said Mariota should also get a confidence boost, not that he needed one.
"Marcus is a swell guy.'' Walker said. "I think now he understands what it feels like to win games in certain situations…Now he'll want to do it again. He has a big confidence, and I think he will have trust in everyone now, knowing we have his back."
The Tennessee Titans take on the New Orleans Saints Week 9 at the Superdome (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)