NEW ORLEANS — Alvin Kamara gave an entertaining description this week about how he goes into “Matrix mode” when he makes defenders miss all over the field.
On Sunday, he and fellow New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram gave a thrilling visual presentation inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The NFL’s most dynamic running back duo sideswiped, stiff-armed and sprinted past the Carolina Panthers’ defense in a 31-21 victory that has the Saints threatening to run away with the NFC South.
“We can prepare for whatever we want,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said when asked specifically about Kamara — who now has at least one touchdown in six straight games. “But he’s got some elite ability.”
Kamara indeed looked like the main character, Neo, from those “Matrix” movies when he absorbed a hit from linebacker Shaq Thompson in front of the goal line, bent back, then snapped forward into the end zone for a 2-yard TD run on a critical fourth-down try on New Orleans’ opening drive.
Then Ingram did his best impression with a 72-yard run in the second quarter, when he made Panthers safety Mike Adams miss three times with two cutbacks and a stiff-arm.
“I’m trying to get my best ‘Alvin Kamara’ on. I’m trying to go in ‘Matrix mode,’” said Ingram, who added, “[People are] sleeping on my speed, so I gotta put the burners on ‘em every now and then.”
Kamara finished with 60 rushing yards, 66 receiving yards and two touchdown runs. Ingram finished with 85 rushing yards, 37 receiving yards and a TD.
It was the fourth time this season they have both finished with more than 100 yards from scrimmage. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they’re the first RB duo to do that since the San Francisco 49ers’ Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler in 1985.
They both credited their blocking help, as well — including tight end Michael Hoomanawanui’s assist on Kamara’s fourth-down TD run and a huge push from center Max Unger on Ingram’s fight for a third-down conversion later in the game.
The numbers, like the runs, have become ridiculous this season. Kamara and Ingram have combined for 200-plus yards from scrimmage in five straight games. They have combined for a total of 1,872 scrimmage yards since Week 6 (234 per game). They have combined for 20 touchdowns scored since Week 3.
Kamara leads the NFL with 7.0 yards per carry this season. And he already has become just the third rookie in NFL history with more than 600 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards in a season — with four games still to play.
But the number that means most of all is 9-3. That’s where the Saints are now, sitting alone atop the NFC South standings.
The Saints lead Carolina (8-4) by just one game, but have swept the season series. And they lead the Atlanta Falcons (7-5) by two games as they prepare to face them twice in the next three weeks (Thursday night at Atlanta, then home in Week 16).
You simply cannot say enough about how much Kamara and Ingram — and the blockers paving the way for them — have meant to New Orleans this season.
The defense (led by DE Cameron Jordan and CB Ken Crawley on Sunday, among others), QB Drew Brees and receiver Michael Thomas also have been very good this year. But they’ve also shown their warts at times. Nothing has been as consistent as the Kamara-Ingram duo.
The Saints found themselves in a pretty tense situation this week — coming off of their first loss in nine games at the Los Angeles Rams; needing a win badly over Carolina to keep from falling behind in the NFC South; playing without top cornerback Marshon Lattimore, left tackle Terron Armstead and starting rookie safety Marcus Williams.
They put their fate in the hands of Kamara and Ingram once again. And they ran with it.
“That was the plan,” Ingram said. “Over the past few years, [the Panthers] have been getting the best of us, especially in big games. So we put emphasis on that we was gonna be the bullies, we was gonna execute and that was a great team win.”