NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees found his rhythm a little too late in his return Sunday from 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Brees started 0-for-6 passing with an interception in the New Orleans Saints' 32-29 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the first time in Brees' 20-year career that he started a game 0-for-5 or worse, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
Brees rallied back with some big-time throws, including a 51-yard deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders, an impressive escape from pressure for a 24-yard touchdown pass to Latavius Murray and a fourth-quarter TD passes to Alvin Kamara and Lil'Jordan Humphrey.
But he was ultimately too sporadic -- and the Saints too depleted at wide receiver as they lost their second straight game and fell to 10-4.
"I'll be honest. I think there's some things that I'm still kind of working on. But it is what it is," Brees said.
The veteran QB let out a big laugh when asked if he is 100 percent.
"No," Brees responded -- before adding, "but I'm on my way."
He will have to bounce back quickly on a short week before the Saints host the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day.
Brees -- who missed the previous four games because of his injuries -- finished 15-of-34 passing for 234 yards as he fell short in the marquee quarterback matchup against Patrick Mahomes. His completion percentage of 44.4% was the third-lowest of his career.
The Saints also finished 1-of-11 on third downs.
It didn't help that the Saints are so depleted at wide receiver. Michael Thomas and Deonte Harris were placed on injured reserve Saturday, and Tre'Quan Smith left Sunday's game early with an ankle injury.
"It 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 and they hit us with some looks defensively where you just have to throw the ball away."
When asked how he would respond to the perception that he either wasn't ready to come back or was too rusty, Brees pointed out that some of his early decisions and throws were just "a hair off."
"I mean, listen, my first pass of the game, I should've thrown a checkdown, we get the first first down and we get a drive going. Instead, I tried to kind of fit one [deep into heavy coverage to fellow QB Taysom Hill]," Brees said. "[But] every game, there's stuff like that. And we are a very efficient offense. We are a high-efficiency passing game. And so we're gonna get back to that."
When asked about Brees' slow start, Saints coach Sean Payton said it's hard to point to just one position.
"I felt like our third-down numbers weren't good enough today. I didn't feel like we ran the ball efficiently when we tried," Payton said. "Everyone will scream, 'You gotta run the ball 30 times.' It's impossible if you're not converting on third down.
"So, overall offensively, we weren't very sharp."
Brees said he has been steadily ramping up physically for the past week or two. And when asked if the importance of Sunday's marquee matchup was part of his motivation for returning, Brees said, "At this point, every game's so important. Down the stretch, everybody's battling something. And everybody's fighting to get on the field and put together our best effort in order to help our team win and advance our playoff status."
The Saints are now even more of a long shot to win the NFC's No. 1 seed, since they would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Green Bay Packers (11-3). However, there is a scenario where the Saints could win a three-way tie at 12-4 with the Packers and Seattle Seahawks (10-4) as long as Green Bay loses another conference game in Week 17 at Chicago.
Payton confirmed that the Saints' goal is to get Thomas back healthy for the playoffs after a season-long ankle injury has continued to nag him. Thomas must miss the final three regular-season games before he can return. "I think we're doing the smart thing with Mike," Payton said.
The Saints' defense put up a valiant effort against Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense but ultimately ran out of gas, with Kansas City running 92 offensive plays and possessing the ball for 41 minutes, 14 seconds.
Replays showed Wylie clutching Jordan's jersey by the collar and not letting go. Jordan tried to shove him away before throwing the punch; he tried explaining that to officials to no avail.
Mahomes finished 26-of-47 passing (55.3%) for 254 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. But he did lose a fumble on a fourth-quarter sack. The Saints also scored a safety by forcing a fumble on a punt return just before halftime.