Saints alone atop NFC South after 31-21 win over Panthers
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints rookie sensation Alvin Kamara took the brunt of a hard collision near the goal line with Carolina linebacker Shaq Thompson, who is 2 inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than runner he was trying to prevent from scoring on fourth down.
“That was just: I’ve got to get in there by any means,” Kamara said. “I got hit and got it on in.”
Kamara added a second tackle-shedding touchdown from 20 yards, New Orleans took advantage of a couple Carolina special teams gaffes, and the Saints reclaimed sole possession of first place in the NFC South with a 31-21 victory over the Panthers on Sunday.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera seemed at a loss to pinpoint what his defense could have done better to stop Kamara, whose production as a runner and receiver as a rookie are placing him in distinguished company.
“You prepare for everything you want, but he has got some elite ability,” Rivera said.
Kamara finished with 126 yards from scrimmage, capping his day with a serpentine, 22-yard gain on a third-and-10 screen pass at the two-minute warning. The first-down gain allowed New Orleans to run out the clock.
“He’s a monster,” fellow Saints running back Mark Ingram said. “He’s always balling, doing his thing, running and catching. He’s definitely the rookie of the year. He’s savage. Cold-blooded.”
Carolina entered the game ranked second defensively overall and third against the run, allowing 83.2 yards per game. The Saints rushed for 148 yards, with Ingram gaining 85.
Ingram gained 122 yards from scrimmage, highlighting his day with a 72-yard run that set up his 3-yard TD.
Drew Brees passed for 269 yards, including a 10-yard TD to Michael Thomas a few plays after Panthers punter Michael Palardy lost his handle on the ball as he was about the kick it away. Palardy aborted the punt and threw incomplete, giving New Orleans the ball on the Carolina 31.
In the fourth quarter, a fumble by Panthers punt returner Kaelin Clay near midfield set up Wil Lutz’s 31-yard field goal to give New Orleans a 31-14 lead.
Cam Newton passed for 183 yards and touchdowns of 21 yards to Christian McCaffrey and 24 yards to Devin Funchess. Newton also ran for 51 yards . Jonathan Stewart added a short TD run for Carolina, which had its four-game winning streak ended.
The Panthers’ comeback attempt was hindered by their inability to convert a fourth-and-6 play deep in Saints territory in the fourth quarter. Newton connected with Funchess, who was stopped a yard short by cornerback Ken Crawley.
“That’s a good team,” Newton said of the Saints, who allowed Carolina to convert only three of 10 third-down plays. “We just have to move forward, be optimistic of our opportunities knowing that the world just doesn’t stop because the Panthers lost today. We have to learn from this.”
Kamara has touchdowns in six straight games, the first time a Saints rookie has done so in the team’s 51-year history. Kamara needs three touchdowns to break George Rogers’ rookie franchise record of 13.
Meanwhile, Kamara’s 614 yards receiving and 606 yards rushing this season make him one of only three rookies in NFL history to have at least 600 yards as both a runner and receiver, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Charley Taylor and Billy Sims.
Brees, who completed 25 of 34 passes, reached 6,127 career completions, surpassing Peyton Manning (6,125) for the second-most all-time. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre has more with 6,300.
Saints rookie quarterback Taysom Hill made his NFL debut — on special teams.
Saints coach Sean Payton said “it just made sense” because Hill, who was undrafted out of BYU, is 6-foot-2, 221 pounds and runs well.
Hill had a couple of tackles in kick coverage and almost blocked a punt.
“I love it. What a stud,” Brees said. “It’s not every day you say, ‘Hey quarterback who’s never played special teams — ever. We’re going to have you play in an NFL game and run down on kickoffs and rushing punts and tackling people.’”
Panthers played without tight end Greg Olsen, ruled out before the game because of soreness in his broken foot.
Saints rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore also was scratched for a second straight week as he recovers from a Week 11 ankle injury.
Panthers: Host Minnesota on Sunday.
Saints: Visit Atlanta on Thursday night.