Kamara ties NFL record as Saints clinch NFC South title
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Alvin Kamara expects a fine for wearing a pair of Christmas-themed shoes that, as it turned out, would also be worthy of a Hall of Fame display.
With a red shoe on his right foot and a green one on his left, Kamara tied an NFL record set in 1929 by running for six touchdowns in a game. He finished with a career-high 155 rushing yards to help New Orleans beat the Minnesota Vikings 52-33 on Friday and clinch a fourth straight NFC South championship.
“It just feels good to have one of those days, just for the team,” Kamara said, showering credit on the offensive line and insisting that he did “the small part.”
“I’m not focused on personal, like, goals and yards and stuff like that,” Kamara continued. “As long as the team has success, then personal success will come.”
And it has come all season for Kamara, who during training camp signed a five-year contract worth up to $75 million. He has since set Saints records for rushing TDs in a season with 16 and total TDs with 21 (he has five receiving). He has a career-high 932 rushing yards this season, with one game left on Jan. 3 at Carolina.
As for wearing shoes that didn’t conform to the NFL’s uniform codes, Kamara said, “If they fine me, whatever it is, I’ll just match it and donate to charity. You know, the Grinch always tries to steal Christmas.”
Kamara slipped a couple of tackle attempts and then sprinted into the clear for a 40-yard touchdown on the game’s opening drive. He added scoring runs of 1, 5, 6, 7 and 3 yards against a Minnesota defensive front hit hard by injuries, and equaled Hall of Fame fullback Ernie Nevers’ achievement.
Minnesota (6-9) was eliminated from playoff contention while allowing the most points by any Vikings team since 1963.
“They just mashed us up front,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, calling his defense “the worst one I’ve ever had” as a coach. “We couldn’t slow them down. It would be 8-yard gain, 7-yard gain.”
The Saints (11-4) never punted, and set a record for yards gained in a game by a Vikings opponent with 583.
Saints coach Sean Payton said it felt like a CFL game, with many first-down conversions coming before New Orleans even got to third down. The Saints might have won by a greater margin if not for two interceptions of Drew Brees, one of them on a pass that deflected off receiver Emmanuel Sanders’ hands.
Brees completed 19 of 26 passes for 311 yards in his second game back from rib and lung injuries that had sidelined him for four games.
Sanders had four catches for 83 yards, while tight end Jared Cook caught three passes for 82 yards. Cook’s total included the 500th reception of his career. New Orleans’ 264 yards rushing were the most by a Vikings opponent in Zimmer’s seven seasons.
Kirk Cousins passed for 283 yards and three touchdowns for the Vikings, who never led and trailed for good after Kamara’s second TD in the first quarter.
New Orleans native Irv Smith Jr. caught a pair of touchdown passes in the third quarter for the Vikings, the second pulling Minnesota to 31-27. But the Saints responded with two short touchdown runs by Kamara and one by reserve QB Taysom Hill in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
Kamara equaled a record Nevers set for the Cardinals way back when they called Chicago home.
“It was awesome,” Brees said. “Six touchdowns for a running back is just astounding.”
Saints players celebrated the last TD by pretending to make snow angels on the Superdome turf, which center Erik McCoy planned during the final drive as something that stuck with the Christmas theme.
“I wasn’t really worried about it. I was just like, shoot it’s all good, whatever, we’re right there, I’m second at least,” Kamara said. “And then (Adam) Trautman went and caught that ball and Drew gave him a good ball and he didn’t score. I was looking for him to score, but in the back of my mind, I’m like alright, this might be my chance. And Sean (Payton) was like, go. So, I just told the O-line, I was like, get me in there. Let’s get it. And we were able to get it. We had the celebration planned out, man. It’s a great moment. I wouldn’t want to do it with another group.”
Payton, who spent part of his youth in the Chicago area, was thinking about Gale Sayers’ six-TD game (four rushing, two receiving) against San Francisco in 1965 when he called the play that led to Kamara’s sixth TD with just less than two minutes left.
“I’d say most of these players have no idea how good Gale Sayers was,” Payton said, adding that Kamara’s TD total “was a big deal. He played fantastic.”
Hill’s touchdown, on a 1-yard run with four minutes left, prevented Kamara from breaking Nevers’ NFL record outright. The play came on a fourth-and-goal situation, and Payton said he simply went with what he felt was the team’s best play in a crucial situation.
Later on, when the game was in hand, Payton added that he wanted to give Kamara a chance at history. Brees completed a pass to Adam Trautman that gained 41 yards to the Vikings’ 3-yard line at the two-minute warning. Kamara’s sixth touchdown came on the next play.
“I was thinking about our best play there, it was fourth down, and we felt that was a play that would be tough for them because obviously, it’s a quarterback design run with an extra guy,” Payton said of Hill’s touchdown. “But late in the game, I was mindful of it.”