By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS — Staggered by a shoulder pad to the head and ripped down by a forearm hit across the neck, Drew Brees was crumpled on the turf with blood on his chin.
Yet the vicious sack by San Francisco’s Ahmad Brooks also drew a flag that canceled out Brees’ lost fumble with 3:12 left and gave the Saints’ prolific quarterback one chance too many.
Brees guided New Orleans to two late Garrett Hartley field goals — the second as time expired — and the Saints upended the 49ers 23-20 on Sunday.
“All I remember is just getting clothes-lined in the chin and as I’m on the ground, I’m saying, ‘That’s got to be a flag,’” Brees said. “One of my teammates kind of picked me up and said, ‘Are you all right?’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry, there’s a flag.’
“I said, ‘All right, good.’ Just took a moment, and you’ve got to get ready to go.”
The Superdome crowd grumbled each time the Saints settled for high-pressure field goals in the fourth quarter, apparently nervous that Hartley, who’d missed four of six attempts in the previous three games, would slip up again.
Instead, Hartley made all three of his field goal attempts in the final quarter to wipe out New Orleans’ 20-14 deficit.
His 42-yarder with 2:06 left tied it. His game-winner was from 31 yards. He also hit from 21 yards earlier.
“This team and this coaching staff and this organization never took their foot off the gas with me and here we are sitting at 8-2 and getting ready for Atlanta,” Hartley said.
The Saints trailed 20-17 when Brooks leveled Brees. The Niners protested the resulting flag vigorously.
“It was very frustrating. The game could have gone a totally different direction than what it went,” Brooks said. “I was just mad because that was a big play in the game. We lost, and that’s probably the reason why.”
The Saints (8-2) improved to 6-0 at home despite three turnovers and a failed fourth down conversion.
“You’re going to have games like this,” Brees said. “You still find way to win against a playoff-caliber opponent with a lot at stake at this point in the season. That says a lot.”
The victory guaranteed the Saints would remain at least a game ahead of Carolina — which plays Monday night — for first place in the NFC South. It also kept New Orleans one game in the loss column behind top NFC seed Seattle (10-1).
Marques Colston finished with five catches for 80 yards to become the Saints’ all-time leader in yards receiving with 7,923, passing Eric Martin’s two-decade-old mark of 7,854.
“It’s definitely an awesome accomplishment,” said Colston, a 2006 seventh-round draft choice out of Hofstra. “It had a lot to do with some of the guys in this locker room and this coaching staff, but we’re in the midst of something a lot more meaningful right now.”
Colin Kaepernick passed for two scores, but finished with only 127 yards and was sacked three times as the Niners (6-4) lost their second straight.
“The greater the challenge, the greater the glory,” Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said. “That’s the way I look at it. I’m proud of our guys for the way they fight, and if we continue to do that, we’re going to win a lot of games.”
The Saints’ defense, one of the worst in NFL history a year ago, played well enough to keep the Saints within striking distance despite what appeared to be a number of seemingly costly mistakes. Junior Galette’s sack helped stall the Niners’ last drive.
Niners running back Frank Gore managed only 48 yards on 13 carries.
Kaepernick completed 17 of 31 passes and scrambled three times for 25 yards. His last run was a 16-yarder on third-and-long that came up 3 yards short of a first down with less than two minutes to go.
Brees completed quick three passes on his final series: a 9-yarder to Graham, the 20-yarder to Colston and then another 12-yarder to Graham.
Brees finished 30 of 43 for 305 yards and one touchdown, a 3-yard connection with rookie tight end Josh Hill.
BEARS 23, RAVENS 20
CHICAGO — Robbie Gould kicked a 38-yard field goal to lift the Chicago Bears to a 23-20 victory over Baltimore Sunday in a game delayed about two hours by a torrential downpour.
Justin Tucker tied it for the Ravens with a 21-yard field goal at the end of regulation.
Gould won it with a 38-yarder on third-and-8 with 8:41 left in OT.
BRONCOS 27, CHIEFS 17
DENVER — Peyton Manning walked away a winner in the biggest game of the year so far and, as a bonus, the Broncos might not even have to send his uniform off to the cleaners.
Manning threw for 323 yards and a touchdown Sunday night and was barely touched by Kansas City’s sack-happy defense in Denver’s 27-17 victory over the NFL’s last undefeated team.
It means the ‘72 Dolphins can rest easy for another year. And it puts Denver and the Chiefs in a tie atop the AFC West at 9-1, with a rematch set in two weeks.
Manning has another big game before that — at New England in yet another showdown against Tom Brady. If the Broncos’ offensive line does anywhere near as good a job in that one as it did against the Chiefs, the quarterback’s ailing ankles — mummified with athletic tape for this critical game — should be feeling much better.
With Lindsey Vonn and boyfriend Tiger Woods on the sideline to watch the NFL’s must-see game of the year, the Denver offensive line, featuring tackles Chris Clark and Orlando Franklin, shut out Kansas City’s sack duo of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali along with the rest of the KC defense, which came in with a league-leading 36 sacks.
It was even better than that, though. Manning was barely touched all night. In fact, his most notable contact came in the first quarter when he and Montee Ball flubbed a handoff that Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson scooped up.
Smith finished with 230 yards and two touchdowns. He completed four passes for 57 yards to Dwayne Bowe, who started, as promised, while his legal case for marijuana possession plays out. Jamaal Charles, who came in leading the AFC in rushing with 725 yards, added 78 to that.
EAGLES 24, REDSKINS 16
PHILADELPHIA — Nick Foles threw for 298 yards and ran for a touchdown, LeSean McCoy had two TDs rushing and Philadelphia snapped a 10-game home losing streak.
A year after finishing 4-12 under Andy Reid, Chip Kelly’s Eagles (6-5) are first in the NFC East. They’re a half-game ahead of idle Dallas (5-5). The defending division champion Redskins fell to 3-7.
Down 24-0 in the fourth quarter, the Redskins rallied behind Robert Griffin III’s TD passes of 62 yards to Darrel Young and 41 yards to Aldrick Robinson and both 2-point conversions.
RG3 then drove the Redskins to the Eagles 18 before his pass off his back foot was intercepted by Brandon Boykin.
BENGALS 40, BROWNS 21
CINCINNATI — Andy Dalton threw two touchdown passes and Cincinnati returned a blocked punt and a fumble for touchdowns during a 31-point second quarter that set a Bengals record and swept the AFC North leaders over Cleveland.
The Bengals (7-4) head into their bye week with their division lead intact. They’d lost their last two games in overtime, tying the NFL record and allowing the Browns (4-6) to draw close.
The biggest quarter in club history left this one in hand by halftime. It ended as the most lopsided game in the intrastate series since Cincinnati’s 30-0 win in Cleveland in 2006.
STEELERS 37, LIONS 27
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger passed for 367 yards and four touchdowns, including two in the final 5 minutes as Pittsburgh rallied to beat Detroit.
Antonio Brown caught seven passes for 147 yards and two scores and Pittsburgh’s defense rebounded from a horrific second quarter to shut out Detroit in the second half. The Steelers (4-6) have won two straight and kept the Lions (6-4) winless in Pittsburgh for 58 years and counting.
Matthew Stafford threw for 362 yards with two touchdowns and an interception to become the Lions’ all-time leading passer. Calvin Johnson hauled in six passes for 179 yards and both scores, but Detroit’s two stars disappeared over the final 30 minutes.
BILLS 37, JETS 14
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Jairus Byrd had two interceptions in leading a Buffalo defense that forced four turnovers in a victory over the Jets.
Buffalo’s EJ Manuel won Round 2 of the AFC East showdown of rookie quarterbacks by finishing 20 of 28 for 245 yards passing and two scores.
RAIDERS 28, TEXANS 23
HOUSTON — Rookie Matt McGloin threw three touchdown passes in his first NFL start and Oakland extended Houston’s franchise-record skid to eight games in Texans coach Gary Kubiak’s return from a mini-stroke.
McGloin, an undrafted free agent, was 18 of 32 for 197 yards in place of an injured Terrelle Pryor.
Kubiak wasn’t on the sidelines, instead coaching upstairs from the booth on doctor’s orders two weeks after collapsing at halftime of Houston’s game against Indianapolis.
CARDINALS 27, JAGUARS 14
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards and two scores and did not throw an interception for the first time all year, leading Arizona over Jacksonville.
Michael Floyd had a career-high 193 yards receiving, including a 91-yard touchdown on a catch-and-run. Will Blackmon was beaten on the play, and then slipped off the receiver and rolled into cornerback Alan Ball to set Floyd free the rest of the way.
BUCCANEERS 41, FALCONS 28
TAMPA, Fla. — Bobby Rainey rushed for 163 yards and scored three touchdowns to lead Tampa Bay over struggling Atlanta.
A waiver wire pickup who’s filling in for the injured Doug Martin and Mike James, Rainey scored on first-half runs of 43 and 3 yards. He caught a 4-yard TD pass from Mike Glennon in the third quarter to help the Bucs (2-8) win for the second straight time following an 0-8 start.
GIANTS 27, PACKERS 13
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul scored on a spectacular, leaping 24-yard fourth-quarter interception return and the resurgent Giants won their fourth game in a row by beating slumping and injured-riddled Green Bay.
Eli Manning threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle and Brandon Jacobs added a 1-yard run as the Giants (4-6) handed the Packers (5-5) their third straight loss, their longest skid since a five-game losing streak near the end of 2008.
SEAHAWKS 41, VIKINGS 20
SEATTLE — Percy Harvin made an impact in his season debut, returning a kickoff 58 yards late in the first half to set up Russell Wilson’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin, and the Seahawks rolled to their franchise-record 13th straight home win by beating Minnesota.
Harvin made his anticipated Seattle debut after missing the first 10 weeks of the regular season following hip surgery. His kickoff return proved one of the biggest plays as Seahawks improved to 10-1 and stayed on top of the NFC heading into their bye week.
Christian Ponder threw a 38-yard TD to Jarius Wright in the first half for Minnesota (2-8), but threw two poor interceptions in the fourth quarter.
DOLPHINS 20, CHARGERS 16
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Miami held San Diego without a touchdown over the final three quarters, and Brent Grimes broke up Philip Rivers’ final pass in the end zone as time expired.
The victory gave the Dolphins something to celebrate amid a harassment scandal that has raised questions about the team’s locker room culture. An NFL special investigator will question players this week about what might have happened between Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.