NEW ORLEANS - Mike Mularkey had so many things he wanted to say in a victorious Titans locker room on Sunday, but when he stood before his team, he found himself getting choked up.
The events of an emotional week – and exhilarating day – left him fighting back tears.
"He couldn't talk much,'' tight end Delanie Walker said of Mularkey, who earlier in the week stepped in for Ken Whisenhunt. "He was very emotional. I know this was a very exciting opportunity for him to come in and get a win and the way we did, I would have been emotional as well."
It wasn't easy in the Big Easy, but the Titans pulled out a memorable win over the Saints – in overtime, no less.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota connected with tight end Anthony Fasano on a five-yard touchdown pass with 9:50 left in overtime as the Titans pulled out a wild one, 34-28 over the Saints.
It was the first game under Mularkey, who replaced Whisenhunt on Tuesday. Whisenhunt promoted Mularkey to assistant head coach/tight ends during the offseason.
"It was an absolutely great win for this team,'' said Mularkey, who also teared up in the post-game press conference before over two dozen reporters and cameramen. "(The players) are so competitive. They want to win so bad; they have come up short so many times. To keep the resilience throughout the game says a lot. … Never once did they flinch.
"I'm just proud of them, really, really proud. They needed that, they really needed that."
The Titans (2-6) snapped a six-game losing streak with the win, and in the process matched their win total from a year ago. Mularkey told the team beforehand to "find a way" somehow, and that's exactly what the Titans did on Sunday.
Mariota, who missed the two previous games, gave the Titans a spark, throwing for 371 yards and four touchdowns. The Titans managed to slow down the Saints in the second half despite injuries in the secondary.
"This has been an emotional week. This has been quite a week for everybody,'' Mularkey said. "To have an outcome like that … That locker room in there, they are all responsible for it. Those coaches and everybody kind of rallied around one another. It is a credit to them."
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 now has 13.
Mariota did his best work in crunch time. He guided a nine-play, 80-yard drive in overtime, capping it off with the touchdown pass to Fasano. When Fasano hauled the touchdown in, the Titans bench erupted, and players stormed the field.
The Titans tied the game at 28-28 with 7:06 left when Mariota connected with receiver Justin Hunter for an eight-yard touchdown pass. Mariota then connected with tight end Delanie Walker on the ensuing two-point conversion.
"Excited, relief,'' Fasano said of the emotions afterward. "A lot of guys have been working really hard for a long time and we haven't had good results. And it was good to get a victory.
"I think it was a great call at the right time,'' Fasano said of the game-winning score. "We got the right defense and I was excited I was able to come up with a play to help this team."
The Titans had a chance to take the lead late in regulation, but a 55-yard field goal try by kicker Ryan Succop went off the crossbar with 1:55 left. The Saints had a field goal chance as well, but Kai Forbath misfired from 46 yards out with 56 seconds left, and the two teams went to overtime.
The Titans won the toss and drove 80 yards on nine plays to win it.
"I think the entire team just stayed composed. We believed in each other,'' Mariota said. "There is a lot of excitement. It's good to come out with a win."
The Titans had to weather the storm early, as the team fell behind by scores of 14-3 and 21-10 against a high-powered offense guided by Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
In the first half, Mariota connected with Walker on a pair of touchdowns, a 61-yarder and a two-yarder. Walker's first touchdown, the 61-yarder, came on a bizarre play, when the Titans caught a break. 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 to cut the Saints lead to 14-10 late in the first quarter.
Afterward, Mariota said he was trying to throw the ball away.
"We got a lucky break there,'' Mariota said.
The Titans had trouble slowing down Brees early. Brees directed a pair of long scoring drives in the first quarter and ended both with touchdown passes – a 10-yarder to tight end Ben Hill and a 38-yarder to Brandin Cooks – to give the Saints a 14-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Brees also scored on a one-yard touchdown to make it 21-10 before Mariota connected with Walker to make it 21-17 with 8:08 remaining in the first half.
The Tennessee Titans take on the New Orleans Saints Week 9 at the Superdome (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
The Titans cut the lead to 21-20 midway through the third quarter on a 29-yard field goal by Succop. But the Saints stretched the lead to 28-20 on a one yard touchdown pass from Brees to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui with 11:32 remaining in the game.
That set the stage for a fantastic finish.
Running back Antonio Andrews ran for a career-high 88 yards in the win. On offense, a reshuffled offensive line didn't allow a sack, while Titans sacked Brees four times.
"This team is really coming together,'' tackle Taylor Lewan said. "To get a win for (Mularkey) is huge, and it's really emotional because he's a great guy. The team just wants to play football and play winning football. … This is a big deal and we have a great future to look forward to."
Walker cautioned the Titans need to keep it going.
The undefeated Panthers visit Nissan Stadium on Sunday.
"It is a relief we finished the game,' Walker said. "But we can't be complacent. This is just one win. We have to go out there and be hungry and get more wins."