LOS ANGELES -- Alvin Kamara was as dazzling as ever Sunday in his Hollywood debut. But one-man shows don't play as well in the NFL as they do in L.A.
“Listen, there’s always bright spots," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said when asked about Kamara's dynamic day -- which included a 74-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, a 15-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter and two other dazzling runs after the catch that included him breaking, eluding or hurdling would-be tacklers.
"Every time the ball was in his hands, it was exciting," Brees said. "He was making people miss, he was breaking tackles, he was jumping over people. He’s continuing to progress -- becoming a great player and a big part of this offense."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kamara is now the first player in the NFL since Herschel Walker in 1986 with more than 500 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in his first 11 career games. And according to Elias Sports Bureau, he has now matched Gale Sayers (1965) as the only two rookies in NFL history with multiple games of 150 scrimmage yards, a rushing TD and a receiving TD.
Naturally, Kamara wasn't reveling too much in his performance after the loss, but he did acknowledge that eluding tacklers is something he considers a strength.
"I'm just trying to make plays, so you’ve gotta stay away from defenders. So that’s what I try to do," said Kamara, who also praised the blocking in front of him Sunday.
That was about the only positive spin to be found in a glum Saints postgame atmosphere, though. The rest of the offense (3-of-13 on third down) and defense (354 passing yards allowed to Jared Goff) gave lackluster performances. New Orleans trailed 26-13 before a late touchdown made the game briefly interesting until the Rams recovered an onside kick.
"Clearly, they were better in every area today," Saints coach Sean Payton said of the Rams, who won the time-of-possession battle by nearly 11 minutes. "You could point to a number of things, but we looked -- in so many areas -- I thought sloppy. Our third downs and offense stunk, and we hurt ourselves. We had  yards of penalties and obviously weren't good enough."
Payton said it wasn't just a down game for the Saints, but a bit of a down week overall after their thrilling come-from-behind, 34-31 overtime win over the Washington Redskins last week.
"I thought our week of practice was just OK at best, honestly," Payton said. "It was average at best, I'll say that."
Players didn't necessarily agree that it was a bad week of practice, but defensive end Cameron Jordan said it means something if Payton says it, and, "We go into practice trying to get better every week. And clearly I think we took a step back in terms of communication on the field."
The Saints (8-3) were probably overdue for a dud, especially in a game without either of their injured starting cornerbacks. But this one proved costly as they now find themselves in a dogfight for the NFC South.
The Saints, Carolina Panthers (8-3) and Atlanta Falcons (7-4) are now all separated by just one game. New Orleans holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Carolina for now, but it must double down this week with the Panthers coming into the Superdome on Sunday. Then the Saints have to play Atlanta twice in the next three weeks after that.
Worse yet for the Saints, they have now lost head-to-head tiebreakers against the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings (9-2) and the NFC West-leading Rams (8-3).
So the path to the postseason still feels like an uphill climb for a team that has been one of the NFL's best over the past two months.
The Saints' two biggest problems Sunday were the lack of a deep passing game by Brees & Co. and the inability for New Orleans' defense to stop the Rams' downfield passing game.
Goff took advantage of New Orleans missing sensational rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore with an ankle injury and second-year corner Ken Crawley with an abdomen injury. Goff completed a 24-yard pass to Sammy Watkins on the game's first play, which led to a quick 7-0 lead, and he never really slowed down from there.
The Saints gave up passing plays of 53, 38, 31 and 31 yards, in addition to a 48-yard pass interference penalty. It is worth noting, however, that Jordan still managed a monster game with two sacks, two batted passes and a disrupted run as the Saints tried to play bend-but-don't-break for much of the day.
Meanwhile, Brees completed just 22 of 32 passes for 246 yards -- and 101 of those went to Kamara, who did a lot of the damage after the catch. Brees was sacked three times -- once immediately after left tackle Terron Armstead left with a hamstring injury in the third quarter -- and the Saints were flagged for holding twice.
"We didn’t play very well today. At all," Brees said. "Obviously [I could tell by] the way it felt out there for me, but then you look at the stat sheet and third downs were not very good, penalties were not very good and time of possession was not very good. And that resulted in a loss."