Carson, Calif. — For Alvin Kamara to see meaningful playing time this season for the New Orleans Saints, the rookie running back is going to have to offer something different than Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram.
That’s exactly what Kamara showed by running for a 50-yard touchdown on New Orleans’ first offensive play and leading the Saints to a 13-7 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night.
Kamara burst off the left side, stepped over a diving defender that grabbed at his ankles and maintained his balance to score the game’s only offensive touchdown 1:13 into the first quarter.
It was a play that had worked consistently for Kamara during two days of joint practices between the Saints and Chargers, and the third-round pick from Tennessee knew it would work again.
“Just didn’t look back, kept going,” Kamara said.
“He’s really fast. I saw him and all of a sudden he was like in the open field, so it’s pretty cool,” Saints quarterback Chase Daniel said.
Kamara finished with 61 yards on five carries and is now averaging 10.7 yards per carry in the preseason. He added a 22-yard catch-and-run coming out of the backfield, and that combination of big-play ability and receiving skills is what could set Kamara apart from Peterson and Ingram, who were both held out as a precaution.
“He has some spatial awareness that a lot of young backs don’t have, and you really can’t teach that,” Daniel said. “He is really taking all the coaching in stride. Really haven’t seen him make the same mistake twice.”
With just a six-day turnaround to the all-important third preseason game, both the Chargers and Saints gave their starting quarterbacks the day off. The only competitive passes fans at StubHub Center saw Philip Rivers and Drew Brees throw were pre-recorded, as the former San Diego teammates staged a throwing contest reminiscent of the old Quarterback Challenge after practice during the joint workouts between the Chargers and Saints earlier in the week.
Daniel was 7 of 12 for 80 yards in place of Brees, finding Michael Thomas for a 28-yard reception to help set up Wil Lutz’s 53-yard field goal midway through the first quarter.
Lutz added a 26-yard field goal with 2:11 remaining.
Safety Dexter McCoil intercepted Ryan Nassib’s fourth-quarter pass and returned it 99 yards for the Chargers’ lone touchdown.
The Chargers played without their starting tackles, as Russell Okung was held out because of a minor ankle injury and Joe Barksdale stood on the sideline with his right foot in a walking boot. The drop-off to backups Tyreek Burwell on the left side and Chris Hairston on the right was evident, as the Chargers only gained 31 yards on 15 plays in the first quarter.
When the Chargers finally reached midfield on their third possession, Burwell and left guard Kenny Wiggins gave up sacks on consecutive plays to end the drive.
Linebacker Manti Te’o, who played his first four seasons with the Chargers, had one of four first-half sacks for the Saints.
“I know that was a preseason game, but it couldn’t have got any uglier, in my opinion,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “Even though we won the time of possession, sacks is what killed us. It’s not just the offensive line. It’s running backs, it’s tight ends, it’s the whole group. But we have to do a better job of coaching these guys and getting them ready to play.”
Chargers running back Melvin Gordon had eight yards rushing on five carries and had a catch for seven yards in the first quarter. Kellen Clemens was 10 of 17 for 99 yards and added 26 yards rushing on three carries.
The Chargers managed to avoid the shutout thanks to the long-striding McCoil, but haven’t scored on offense on their last 18 possessions dating back to the end of the first half against the Seattle Seahawks last week.
“Today we might have looked at it as a preseason game instead of another opportunity to get better,” Gordon said. “I don’t feel like we got better today. It’s just a lack of communication. We’ll fix it up and be better.”
During his time at Iowa, Chargers cornerback Desmond King always found ways to fill the stat sheet. The fifth-round pick has brought that trait to the NFL, as he had a sack, a tackle for loss and a pass defense against the Saints after intercepting a pass against the Seahawks.
“Did you see 36 (King)?,” linebacker Korey Toomer said. “He was making plays all over in there.”
King admitted he was overwhelmed during rookie minicamp, but has settled in since then.
“Once I started getting used to the system, just getting comfortable and not overthinking things and kind of getting overwhelmed with the situations, just getting comfortable and believing in the system is what really helped me,” King said.
More Sunday preseason
(At) Pittsburgh 17, Atlanta 13: Rookie running back James Conner set up Pittsburgh’s winning fourth-quarter touchdown pass.
Conner, the former University of Pittsburgh star who overcame Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a serious right knee injury to reach the NFL, broke off runs of 17 and 19 yards, leading to Bart Houston’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter.
Conner was greeted with an ovation on the third series of the game when he made his first carry. The third-round pick busted off three other runs longer than 10 yards and ended his debut with 98 yards on 20 carries.
Pittsburgh receiver Martavis Bryant played his first game more than 18 months.
The NFL suspended Bryant in March 2016 for a second violation of its substance abuse policy.
The Bills signed tight end Rory Anderson and safety Adrian McDonald.
Buffalo freed up the two roster spots by designating tight end Jason Croom as waived/injured and releasing punter Austin Rehkow.
... The Jaguars signed running back DuJuan Harris and waived/injured cornerback Charles Gaines.
Harris provides the team some depth heading into Thursday’s preseason game against Carolina.
Fellow running backs Leonard Fournette (foot) and T.J. Yeldon (ankle) are unlikely to play against the Panthers.
... Washington activated tight end Jordan Reed from the physically-unable-to-perform list.
Reed had been on the list since the start of training camp in late July because of an injury to the big toe on his left foot.
... The Vikings signed former University of Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner.
The 6-foot-3, 228-pound Leidner was not selected in the 2017 NFL draft. He attended the Ravens rookie minicamp but did not sign with the club.
The Vikings now have five quarterbacks on their roster.