Alvin Kamara's 2 TDs Power Saints Past Cam Newton, Panthers in NFC South Duel

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2017

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) celebrates his touchdown reception with running back Alvin Kamara in the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
Bill Feig/Associated Press

The New Orleans Saints rebounded from a Week 12 loss to the Los Angeles Rams with a 31-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Entering Sunday, the Panthers had one of the stronger run defenses in the NFL. Carolina was giving up an average of 83.2 yards per game on the ground—third-best in the league—and ranked fifth in run defense DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), according to Football Outsiders.

However, the Panthers had little answer for the combination of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The duo ran for 145 yards and scored three of New Orleans' four touchdowns.

Ingram also caught six passes for 37 yards, while Kamara had five receptions for 66 yards.

Kamara in particular had social media buzzing Sunday:

Kamara got the Saints on the board in the first quarter with a two-yard touchdown run. After Jonathan Stewart tied the game for Carolina, Ingram found the end zone on a three-yard run to put New Orleans ahead 14-7 with 11:32 left in the first half.

Kamara's second rushing touchdown came in the third quarter as the Saints led 21-14. The rookie shook free of a pair of would-be tacklers en route to the end zone and celebrated with Saints fans to cap off his 20-yard run.

The Saints shared a replay of the touchdown:

As well as New Orleans' backfield performed, the defense deserves plenty of credit for the win as well.

During their four-game winning streak, the Panthers averaged 29.25 points and gained roughly 350 yards per contest.

In addition to holding Carolina to 21 points, the Saints surrendered just 279 yards.

Cam Newton was 17-of-27 for 183 yards and two touchdowns through the air and ran for 51 yards on six carries. Newton didn't much receive support from the rest of the Carolina offense, though.

Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey combined for 61 rushing yards. Devin Funchess' 60 receiving yards were his lowest since the Panthers' 17-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 29.

Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz thought Carolina's problems on offense may stem from coaching:

The Panthers made things interesting late in the fourth quarter after holding the Saints to a 31-yard field goal with 6:08 remaining to stay to within 17 points, 31-14. Funchess capped off Carolina's ensuing possession with a 24-yard touchdown reception to bring the team to within two scores with 3:57 left.

The Panthers appeared to recover Graham Gano's onside kick, but upon further review, officials determined Funchess was out of bounds when he tried to keep the ball in play as he was diving along the sideline. As a result, the Saints received possession and ran the remaining time off the clock to secure the victory.

The result gives New Orleans a one-game lead on Carolina in the NFC South. The 9-3 Saints now own the tiebreaker over the Panthers after having beaten them twice this year.

With a difficult game against the Minnesota Vikings ahead in Week 14, Sunday's loss to New Orleans could be a big blow for Carolina's playoff hopes. The Panthers still have the fifth-best record in the NFC (8-4), but only one game separates them from the seventh-place Atlanta Falcons, whom they meet in the final week of the regular season.