| Associated Press
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.
►(At) Miami 22, New England 12: Undrafted rookie Salvon Ahmed and veteran Matt Breida combined for 208 yards rushing to lead the Dolphins to a victory over the Patriots, who were eliminated from playoff contention, ending their NFL-record run of 11 consecutive postseason appearances.
The Dolphins entered the game last in the league in yards per carry, and Ahmed became their first 100-yard rusher since 2018, totaling 122 yards and scoring a 2-point conversion on a trick play.
Breida added 86 yards and the Dolphins totaled a season-high 250 against the Patriots, who were gashed for more than 150 on the ground for the fifth time this year.
The Dolphins (9-5) bolstered their wild-card chances and are assured of a winning record for only the second time since 2008.
The Patriots (6-8) will finish at .500 or worse for the first time since 2000, the year they drafted Tom Brady. They fall one year short of matching the Dallas Cowboys’ NFL record of 20 consecutive winning seasons.
Buffalo clinched the AFC East title with a win Saturday.
►Cleveland 20, (at) NY Giants 6: Baker Mayfield led two 95-yard touchdown drives and the Browns moved closer to ending their 17-year playoff drought.
Mayfield was sharp all night, helping the Browns (10-4) bounce back from a 47-42 loss to Baltimore last Monday night. The Cleveland quarterback has been terrific lately, and it was more of the same in this one as he finished 27 of 32 for 297 yards with scoring passes to Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper.
Nick Chubb had a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that put it out of reach for the sluggish Giants and made the Browns the first team this season to have two 95-yard TD drives in a game.
The win got the Browns closer to clinching their first playoff spot since 2002, the NFL’s longest drought. They also matched their highest win total (10-6 in 2007) since their 1999 expansion rebirth.
Cleveland also dealt a serious blow to the playoff hopes of the Giants (5-9), who were without injured quarterback Daniel Jones. Colt McCoy, who started 21 games for the Browns from 2010-13, couldn’t get much going against his former team.
Tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens, fired after last season as Cleveland’s head coach, ran the offense with coordinator Jason Garrett out after testing positive for the coronavirus. New York was aggressive early but put up just six points against a defense that gave up 80 points in the past two games.
McCoy was 19 of 31 for 221 yards for the Giants, who are tied with Dallas a game behind Washington for first place in the NFC East.
►Seattle 20, (at) Washington 15: Russell Wilson and the Seahawks built a big lead, and Seattle’s suddenly opportunistic defense held on to beat Washington and clinch a playoff spot.
Wilson threw for a touchdown, Carlos Hyde ran 50 yards for a score, and the Seahawks (10-4) picked off Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins twice. Shaquill Griffin and D.J. Reed each had an interception as the league’s worst passing defense played strong until the fourth quarter.
After a Haskins-led comeback from a 20-3 deficit fell short, Washington (6-8) had its winning streak snapped at four with Alex Smith out because of a calf injury. Haskins finished 38 of 55 for 295 yards, a TD pass and the two interceptions.
Wilson threw for 121 yards and a 10-yard TD pass to Jacob Hollister and ran for 52 on six carries. Hyde’s 50-yard TD run was Seattle’s longest rushing play of the season.
►(At) Indianapolis 27, Houston 20: Philip Rivers threw a late, tiebreaking touchdown to Zach Pascal and Indianapolis’ defense recovered a fumble in the end zone with 19 seconds left to seal a victory over Houston.
Indy (10-4) has won three straight to retain a share of the AFC South lead with Tennessee, winners over Detroit. Houston (4-10) has lost three straight and five of six in this series.
The Colts won this one in similar fashion to the teams’ meeting two weeks ago. The Texans had a chance to win that one in the final minute but Indy jumped on a bad snap to quarterback Deshaun Watson inside the red zone.
This time, Pascal caught a pass in the flat, turned up the field and stretched his arms across the goal line while hitting the pylon to give Indy a 27-20 lead with 1:47 to go.
Rivers was 22 of 28 with 228 yards and two scores. Jonathan Taylor had 16 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Watson was 33 of 41 with 373 yards and two touchdowns. Coutee had five catches for 53 yards and one score before the fumble, and David Johnson had 11 receptions for 106 yards.
►Chicago 33, (at) Minneapolis 27: David Montgomery rushed for a career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns and Chicago trampled Minnesota’s depleted defense and hung on for a victory to stay in the hunt for the expanded playoffs.
The Bears (7-7), who entered the afternoon one game behind Arizona for the new third wild-card spot in the NFC, never trailed in winning at Minnesota for a third straight year. Coach Matt Nagy improved to 5-1 against the Vikings (6-8), whose postseason chances all but vanished.
Chicago punted only once, on the opening possession. It did just about whatever it wanted with the ball until Cameron Dantzler intercepted Mitch Trubisky’s third-and-goal pass into a crowd in the end zone with 2:57 left and a 30-27 lead.
But the Bears, who were plenty vulnerable on defense themselves, delivered their second fourth-and-1 stop in Minnesota territory to get the ball right back for a field goal.
Dalvin Cook rushed for 132 yards and a score, but he was stuffed on third-and-1 before a pivotal incompletion by Kirk Cousins throwing off his back foot. Cairo Santos, who converted all four of his kicks, stretched his streak to 22 straight field goals made.
The Bears then intercepted a last-snap heave by Cousins into the end zone to drop the Vikings to 3-5 at home this year.
►(At) Dallas 41, San Francisco: Tony Pollard ran for two touchdowns with Ezekiel Elliott sidelined by an injury for the first time in the two-time rushing champion’s career, and Dallas beat San Francisco.
Four of the seven Dallas scores were set up by turnovers from the 49ers (5-9), who guaranteed themselves becoming the second Super Bowl runner-up in the past 13 seasons to finish with a losing record the next year.
The Cowboys (5-9) kept faint playoff hopes alive in a matchup of longtime rivals with a rich playoff history that was moved out of prime time with both teams starting the day in last place in their divisions.
Andy Dalton threw for two touchdowns, and Greg Zuerlein kicked a tiebreaking field goal early in the fourth quarter after the second interception by Nick Mullens, who was replaced by C.J. Beathard.
Beathard handled the last two possessions and threw a 49-yard touchdown to Kendrick Bourne on the final play on a desperation pass.
►NY Jets 23, (at) LA Rams 20: Sam Darnold passed for 207 yards and the New York Jets finally earned the first victory of their miserable season, holding on for a win that erased the possibility of the third winless 16-game season in NFL history.
Frank Gore rushed for an early touchdown and made a decisive third-down reception with 2:05 left for the Jets (1-13), who also ended the longest losing streak in franchise history with a strong start and a gritty finish at SoFi Stadium.
Embattled coach Adam Gase got his first win of the year only after New York blew most of a 17-point lead in the second half. The Jets’ defense stopped the Rams on downs at midfield with 3:54 to play before Darnold hit Gore with a short pass over the middle to convert a third down that allowed the Jets to run out the clock.
New York might have ruined its chances at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft because Jacksonville (1-13) is likely to win a tiebreaker based on strength of schedule. But possibly missing the chance to draft Trevor Lawrence meant nothing to the celebrating Jets, who were thrilled to avoid the ignominy of a winless year.
Darnold, the Jets’ embattled third-year quarterback, looked right at home in his first pro game in his native Southern California. The former USC Trojans star went 22 of 31 with a touchdown pass and no interceptions.
(At) Arizona 33, Philadelphia 26: Kyler Murray threw for a career-high 406 yards, DeAndre Hopkins had 169 yards receiving and a stellar touchdown catch, and the Cardinals improved their position in the playoff race.
Arizona (8-6) won its second straight game as it tries to make the postseason for the first time since 2015. The Cardinals are in third place in their division behind the Rams and Seahawks and would currently be the No. 7 and final seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Eagles (4-9-1) trailed 16-0 in the first quarter but rallied to tie the game at 26 in the third quarter after quarterback Jalen Hurts ran for a 7-yard touchdown.
Arizona responded with its go-ahead touchdown drive capped by Hopkins’ spectacular 20-yard grab. Cornerback Michael Jacquet was playing tight defense on the play, but Hopkins wrestled the ball away and held on with one hand as he fell past the pylon into the end zone.
Murray completed 27 of 36 passes, with three touchdowns and one interception.
Hurts, making his second career start, completed 24 of 44 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns. He had a lot of good moments, but couldn’t lead the Eagles to any points on their last two offensive drives.