NEW ORLEANS (AP) — After taking four sacks, throwing an interception and being flattened by a forearm to the face, a sore but determined Derek Carr pulled out the kind of finish he wanted in his New Orleans Saints debut.
Carr passed for 305 yards and a touchdown, and his 41-yard pass to Rashid Shaheed on third-and-6 in the final minutes helped New Orleans run out the clock in a 16-15 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
“I’m glad we won. That’s all I wanted to do,” said Carr, who spent his first nine seasons with the Raiders before coming to New Orleans as a free agent. “That was one of the more physical games I’ve played in my 10 years. … We showed that we could win the ultimate physical type of game.”
The Saints’ defense did not allow a touchdown, intercepted Ryan Tannehill three times, sacked him three times, and stopped Tennessee on 10 of 12 third down plays.
“Our defense is something special,” said cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who had one of the Saints’ interceptions, along with Marcus Maye and Paulson Adebo. “We’re one of the best defenses, if not the best defense, in the league.”
New Orleans also got a big special teams play when linebacker Zack Baun blocked a punt in Titans territory to set up one of rookie Blake Grupe’s three field goals.
Shaheed, an undrafted player in his second season out of Weber State, overcame his turnover on the opening kickoff and finished with five receptions for 89 yards and the game’s lone touchdown.
“That’s a very veteran thing of him to do,” Carr said. “Usually, when young guys make mistake early, it’s hard to get them back focused. … He came out and caught a lot of passes for us in some big situations.”
Chris Olave caught eight passes for 112 yards for New Orleans. Michael Thomas, who missed the final 14 games last season, returned to catch five passes for 61 yards.
The teams traded field goals, punts or turnovers for most of the game before New Orleans finally found the end zone with 1:23 left in the third quarter. Carr pump-faked and lofted a pass toward the right side of the end zone an instant before the pocket collapsed. Shaheed, who faked a shorter route before breaking behind the defense, hauled in the 19-yard scoring pass to make it 16-9.
After the Titans’ Nick Folk hit two more field goals from 45 and 29 yards, Tennessee needed one more third-down stop for a chance to win. That’s when Carr hit Shaheed deep down the left sideline.
“It made my day,” Carr said, crediting offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. for calling a play that provided that opportunity. “It meant a lot to me and our offense that he trusted us.”
Jamaal Williams’ first-down run shortly after allowed New Orleans to run out the clock.
Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel said he was banking on his defense forcing one more punt when he sent Folk out for a field goal instead of running an offensive play on fourth-and-6 from the New Orleans 11 with 2:20 left.
“If we want to be a great defense, we have to be a great defense all the time,” Vrabel said. “We tried to put the game in their hands and I thought we’d get a stop when we made the decision to kick, come down and get inside the 40 and try to kick a field goal to win the game.”
Tannehill finished 16 of 34 for 198 yards. New Orleans limited star running back Derrick Henry to 63 yards rushing. DeAndre Hopkins caught seven passes for 65 yards in his Titans debut.
Carr’s first play from scrimmage as a Saint was a 25-yard completion to Thomas along the left sideline.
That was not, however, an auspicious sign of things to come in the first half, which ended with Carr being intercepted by safety Amani Hooker on the Titans’ 12.
The turnover preserved Tennessee’s 9-6 lead at halftime.
With star running back Alvin Kamara serving the first of a three-game suspension, the Saints managed just 69 yards on the ground.
“Obviously that’s a good front that we played,” coach Dennis Allen said. “We knew it was going to be difficult to run the ball. … Obviously, that’s something that we’ve got to improve on.”
Titans: DB Kristian Fulton received attention for an ailing hamstring in first half but returned to the game. DT Kyle Peko received attention in the fourth quarter but was able to walk to the sideline. Hooker briefly received treatment in the final two minutes.
Saints: DE Payton Turner left the game with a toe injury in the first half. DB Alontae Taylor limped off the field early in the fourth quarter but returned.
Titans: Play their home opener next Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Saints: Visit Carolina for their first NFC South matchup on Monday, Sept. 18.