By BRETT MARTEL AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees passed for 373 yards and three touchdowns in his first game in more than five weeks since thumb surgery, and the New Orleans Saints won their sixth straight with a 31-9 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
With few exceptions, Brees was accurate and looked composed even as his pass blocking collapsed, completing 34 of 43 passes.
He was intercepted once, by Patrick Peterson, but was not pressured before throwing that aggressive, risky pass down the left sideline, where fullback Zach Line was double-covered.
The Cardinals were unable to capitalize on that turnover early in the second half, however, and Brees made them pay by leading three touchdown drives after that, ending with passes to running back Latavius Murray, dynamic reserve QB and utility player Taysom Hill, and leading receiver Michael Thomas.
Cardinals rookie Kyler Murray completed 19 of 33 passes for 220 yards, but Arizona never found the end zone. Eight of his completions went to Christian Kirk for 79 yards in the receiver’s return from an ankle sprain. Arizona was held to 40 yards rushing and the Saints’ defense held a fifth-straight opponent below 260 total net yards.
With backup Teddy Bridgewater filling in, the Saints had won all five games since Brees’ ulnar collateral ligament surgery on Sept. 18. But coach Sean Payton said during the week that Brees had been medically cleared and that there were no misgivings about returning the 40-year-old Brees to his starting role as soon as the NFL’s all-time leading passer felt ready.
Brees practiced this week and by teammates’ accounts looked about like the record-setting QB they remembered.
He led four drives in the first half in which the Saints threatened to score, but one ended with a missed field goal and the other with a nullified touchdown pass because offensive holding was called as time ran out in the second quarter. The other two drives ended with a short field goal and Murray’s 8-yard TD run, giving New Orleans a 10-6 halftime lead.
Brees’ first touchdown passing was set up by Cardinals coach Kilff Kingsbury’s curious decision to keep the offense on the field on fourth-and-1 near the Arizona 30 — and then call a running play up the middle against one of the NFL’s better defensive fronts.
Chase Edmonds was stopped at the line of scrimmage, and five plays later, Brees found Murray for a 15-yard catch and run that widened New Orleans’ lead to 17-6.
Brees’ 29-yard pass to tight end Josh Hill set up the Taysom Hill’s 5-yard TD catch.
A 36-yarder from Brees to Hill set up Thomas’ 9-yard TD catch.
With Saints top running back Alvin Kamara sidelined by ankle and knee soreness, Murray had his second straight productive performance. He rushed 21 times for 102 yards and a touchdown and caught nine passes for 55 yards and a score.
Cardinals: Linebacker Cassius Marsh Sr. was concussed and did not return after he tackled Thomas for a loss on a reverse-toss play on New Orleans’ opening drive. … In the second half, Edmonds limped off with a hamstring injury.
Saints: Center Erik McCoy, a second-round draft pick who was the first player selected by New Orleans last spring, received attention on the field and walked slowly to the sideline late in the first half, but returned in the second half.
Cardinals: Host San Francisco on Thursday night.
Saints: Enter their Week 9 bye and play next at home against Atlanta on Nov. 10.