By CHRIS TALBOTT
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The New Orleans Saints took no chances in their final preseason game, resting all the starters in a 10-6 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night as they prepared to return home to storm-ravaged Louisiana and put a scandal-ridden offseason behind them.
Interim coach Joe Vitt scratched 26 players, including starting quarterback Drew Brees and their top three running backs and wide receivers, ensuring the Saints (2-3) will be on solid footing as he begins a suspension for New Orleans' pay-for-injury scheme. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will lead the team into its Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the Washington Redskins.
New Orleans' backups showed plenty of spark with a few roster spots on the line and largely outplayed the starters of the Titans (3-1) early in what was a meaningless game for just about everyone but new Tennessee starting quarterback Jake Locker. With running back Chris Johnson sitting out but with most of the offensive starters on the field, the second-year player continued his streak of spotty play.
He overthrew one open receiver for a sure touchdown and fumbled inside the 5, completing 9 of 16 passes for 81 yards in four series that yielded a field goal by Rob Bironas. He was largely outplayed by Saints third-stringer Sean Canfield, who was 14 of 18 for 144 yards and led the Saints to a 6-3 first-half lead.
While a few players fought for roster spots as Friday's cut-down day approaches, most of the Saints were thinking about home as Isaac brought heavy storm damage and some flooding to Louisiana.
Brees warmed up briefly with the team before bear-hugging Vitt and exiting to the sideline. He sent a tweet to fans earlier in the day: "We are about to take the field in Tennessee, but our hearts are with New Orleans and its residents. May God watch over us all."
The team gave players Sunday and Monday to secure their families and homes, then relocated to Cincinnati where they worked out at the Bengals' facilities on Tuesday before heading south to Nashville.
It was just another distraction to deal with in an offseason that was filled to the brim with them.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton is gone for the season, as is linebacker Jonathan Vilma thanks to suspensions levied by the NFL. Vitt is next up as Kromer takes over for six weeks. Still considered Super Bowl contenders, they have had questions swirling around their team for much of the offseason.
The only significant Saint seeing time against the Titans was fourth-string running back Chris Ivory, who carried six times for 24 yards.
By contrast, most of the Titans starters saw time, with little to show for it. They failed to convert Alterraun Verner's early forced fumble and recovery at the Saints 24, settling for a field goal. And their only touchdown, a 1-yard run by Jamie Harper, came midway through the third quarter following an interception in Saints territory.
Locker finished the preseason 31 of 60 for 215 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception. His mistakes in accuracy and ball protection against the Saints were similar to those he's made since being taken with the eighth overall pick last year. But help may be on the way. Kenny Britt was activated from the physically unable to perform list on Tuesday and reports Thursday say the team's athletic wide receiver faces a one-game suspension from the NFL for off-the-field issues.
That could mean a quicker-than-expected boost for the Titans, who lacked consistent offensive playmakers while just missing the postseason last year.
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