NEW ORLEANS: Patrick Mahomes had his full repertoire of side-arm throws, basketball-style push passes and underhanded flips on display while passing for 254 yards and three touchdowns, and the Kansas City Chiefs extended their winning streak to nine games with a 32-29 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
The Kansas City defense did its part to spoil Drew Brees’ return from rib fractures and a punctured lung that had kept the record-setting passer out four games.
While Brees passed for 234 yards and three TDs, he completed less than half of his passes and was intercepted for just the fourth time this season.
The victory kept the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs (13-1) in pole position to capture the AFC’s lone playoff bye as a No. 1 seed. The Saints (10-4), meanwhile, missed a chance to clinch the NFC South for a second straight week and now are longshots to capture the NFC’s top seed.
Mahomes’ scoring passes went for 5 yards each to Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, the latter coming as the Chiefs’ agile QB back-peddled toward the left sideline to avoid pressure and released a throw to the back corner of the end zone, where Hardman was able to snag it in traffic while narrowly getting two feet inbounds.
Mahomes’ second TD toss looked more like a basketball assist, a chest-pass to tight end Travis Kelce cutting behind blockers for a 1-yard score.
Mahomes later used an underhanded forward flip to Kelce for a 2-point conversion after a 12-yard touchdown run by Le’Veon Bell to make it 29-15 in the fourth quarter.
Bell’s TD came one play after Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan was flagged for a personal foul and ejected for punching right guard Andrew Wylie following an incomplete pass.
The Saints pulled to 29-22 when Trey Hendrickson stripped Mahomes while making his second sack of the game, setting up Alvin Kamara’s 14-yard score on a short catch and run through a swarm of players along the right sideline.
Kansas City responded with a field goal with 4:18 left, but Brees pulled New Orleans within a field goal with his 17-yard scoring pass to Lil’Jordan Humphrey with 2:06 to go.
With two timeouts remaining, the Saints kicked deep, but could not prevent Mahomes and Co. from running out the clock.
Just 3,000 tickets were sold for this marquee matchup between playoff contenders in the Superdome, but those in attendance got a first-hand look at Mahomes’ mesmerizing and unconventional theatrics.
On a third-and-8 conversion in the first half, Mahomes darted right to avoid defensive tackle David Onyemata, then suddenly stopped and stepped up as Jordan, in close pursuit, stumbled past. Mahomes then fired a pass to Sammy Watkins for a 23-yard gain. The play extended the drive that culminated with Kelce’s TD.
The Saints briefly took a 15-14 lead early in the third quarter when Brees found Latavius Murray uncovered late in a play that appeared to be breaking down and the running back scampered for a 24-yard touchdown.
The Chiefs went back on top for good on their next series.
Brees’ return got off to a rough start. His first three passes fell incomplete before his fourth was intercepted by L’Jarius Sneed at the New Orleans 36-yard line, setting up Hill’s TD that made it 7-0.
Brees needed more than a full quarter to complete a pass or lead the Saints to a first down. His first completion came on his seventh pass. A few plays later, he hit Emmanuel Sanders 51 yards down the right sideline to set up Taysom Hill’s 1-yard TD run.
The Saints cut it to 14-9 at the end of the half with a safety during a Chiefs punt return fumbled into the end zone by Demarcus Robinson. Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone tried to fall on it in the end zone, but it squirted away and over the end line.
Chiefs: Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire needed help to the locker room in the fourth quarter, not putting any pressure on his left leg. The Chiefs also announced linebacker Emmanuel Smith injured his hamstring.
Saints: Receiver Tre’Quan Smith and safety Marcus Williams each left with ankle injuries in the second half.
Chiefs: Host Atlanta on Sunday in the first of two home games to finish the regular season.
Saints: Close out their home schedule against Minnesota on Christmas Day.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL