NEW ORLEANS – Patrick Mahomes' repertoire of side-arm throws, basketball-style push passes, underhanded flips and renowned improvisation humbled yet another highly regarded defense.
Mahomes passed 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.
“Patrick is more impressive than I could imagine,” said running back Le'Veon Bell, who joined the Chiefs in mid-October and scored a 12-yard touchdown on an option pitch from Mahomes. "He’s even more impressive in person. ... I’m fortunate to be his teammate.”
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 fewer than half of his passes and was intercepted for just the fourth time this season.
“I wasn’t real efficient, obviously, in the passing game,” Brees said. “I’d say that was a combination of forcing some things down the field instead of just taking a completion underneath. There were some miscues."
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 backpedaled 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.
“The biggest challenge is when he extends plays," Saints coach Sean Payton said of Mahomes. "A 2.5- or 3-second route turns into a 5- or 6-second route. That’s challenging.”
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.
“It takes a lot of practice as far as getting the blocking right that quickly, finding a way to kind of push it in there,” Mahomes said, noting that the Chiefs scored on the same play against Denver two seasons ago. “The guys did a great job of giving me a lane to throw.”
Mahomes later used an underhanded forward flip to Kelce for a 2-point conversion after Bell's TD, giving the Chiefs a 29-15 lead in the fourth quarter.
Bell's score came one play after Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan was flagged for a personal foul and ejected for punching offensive lineman Andrew Wylie.
“We knew the only chance had against that front seven is if we took fight to them," Wylie said. "It was a brawl, too.”
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 before Brees pulled New Orleans within a field goal with his 17-yard 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 contenders, but those in attendance got a first-hand look at Mahomes' mesmerizing and unconventional flair for the dramatic.
On a third-and-8 conversion, 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.
“Sammy was kind of my last read,” Mahomes said, crediting his offensive line and receivers for never giving up on the play. “You've got to have guys that are going to continue to battle the entire game.”
Brees' 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 when Chiefs punt returner Demarcus Robinson fumbled into the end zone. Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone tried to fall on it, but it squirted out of bounds.
The Saints briefly took a 15-14 lead early in the third quarter when Brees found Latavius Murray late in a play that appeared to be breaking down and the running back scampered for a 24 -yard TD.
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. Chiefs coach Andy Ried said X-rays were negative but that Edwards-Helaire required more evaluation. Reid said 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.
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