Why Alvin Kamara's monster game was so important to Saints, Drew Brees

METAIRIE, La. -- Alvin Kamara's spectacular six-touchdown performance on Christmas Day was something the NFL hadn’t seen in 55 years.

But it was hardly the first time Kamara had strapped the New Orleans Saints' offense on his back and carried it to victory this season.

Kamara has been the Saints’ MVP -- as well as a contender for the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award -- while leading the league with 21 touchdowns and ranking third with 1,688 yards from scrimmage.

He is the perfect weapon for a Saints team that has relied less on Drew Brees’ arm than ever before in 2020. The Saints have averaged more rushing yards per game (140.6) and fewer passing yards per game (237.8) than any other season in the Brees/Sean Payton era.

“He’s the best running back in the league, there’s not much else to say about it,” said center Erik McCoy -- part of a Saints offensive line that also deserves a ton of credit for the heavy lifting it has done this year.

The Saints are on pace to run for more yards as a team (currently 2,109) than they have since 1983. They ran for 264 of them in Friday’s 52-33 win over the Minnesota Vikings -- the third time in the last five games they had run for more than 200 yards. New Orleans had never done that three times in any single season in the Payton/Brees era.

That’s especially huge considering the Saints (11-4), who have clinched their fourth straight NFC South title, could wind up playing a big game in Lambeau Field in late January.

Kamara has a career-high 932 rushing yards with one week remaining. Just as importantly, he is a go-to target for Brees in the passing game.

Kamara has caught 67 passes in 11 games played with Brees this year, which is more than 25% of Brees’ completions.

Even before Brees broke 11 of his ribs and suffered a punctured lung last month, he was already under the microscope for ... well, being 41 years old. His air yards per attempt have plummeted in recent seasons (though his completion percentage and efficiency stats have been among his best ever).

But Brees has the perfect age-defying remedy.

“Air yards” matter even less when a dynamic playmaker like Kamara does so much damage after those short passes.

“We’re an offense that has a lot of weapons. We have the ability to run the football, we have the ability to spread the football in the passing game, both in the short-area passing game and down the field,” Brees told Cox Sports Television after Friday’s win. “We have a defense that’s playing great football, very complementary. Great special teams, great specialists, our kicker and punter. We’re battle tested. But everybody as you approach the playoffs is trying to play their best football ... so you’ve gotta earn it.”

Brees still appeared to be shaking off some rust Friday in his second game back after he had missed four weeks with the injuries. He had two passes intercepted in a game for the first time since 2017 -- and he had two others that were nearly picked off.

However, he still finished with 311 passing yards while top receivers Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith were sidelined by injuries.

Brees and Thomas have played in only two full games together all season because of the nagging ankle injury that Thomas suffered in Week 1. But Thomas is expected to be back and closer to full health in time for the playoff opener.

Brees expects to be closer to peak form by then, too.

“I didn’t know how I was gonna feel coming off a game with only five days' rest, but I actually feel pretty good,” Brees said after playing two games in six days. “I felt a lot better. I think both physically and just kind of, ya know, having a chance to kind of work off some rust last week a little bit and just get back in the mix, begin to get that feeling back and all that back.

“So listen, that's the goal is just to continue to get better and better each week. Continue to get all the strength back, get all the feel and rhythm back."