Lots to ponder in this one, because the New Orleans Saints had so many outstanding efforts combining to headline a 31-21 victory over Carolina on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, that raised their record to 9-3, assured a winning season and kept them in first place in the NFC South Division. Tough calls to make all around for this week's helmet stickers.
OFFENSE: Alvin Kamara is turning into Drew Brees, in that there don't appear to be many weeks that the rookie running back isn't a good choice. He ran nine times for 60 yards and two touchdowns, raising his team-leading total to 11 touchdowns, and caught five passes for 66 yards. And he supplied his weekly how-did-he-do-that moment. The first defender can't tackle him – heck, the first defender probably has problems even seeing the shape-shifting Kamara – and on his 2-yard touchdown run, he showed the physicality necessary to be a goal-line runner, lowering his shoulder and powering through a tackle attempt by Carolina's Shaq Thompson. He's the Offensive Rookie of the Year, and the accolades shouldn't stop there. Brees (25 of 34, 269 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions) also had a nice day, running back Mark Ingram II (14 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown, six catches for 37 yards) is closing in on his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season and Andrus Peat has had one heck of a season, shifting back and forth between left guard and left tackle, depending on Terron Armstead's availability. But Kamara has been special, and he makes it look effortless.
DEFENSE: It's amazing how vital second-year cornerback Ken Crawley has become. Lest we forget, he didn't even start the first two games. But since he moved into the lineup – due to injury – he has been a mainstay and he isn't playing like a man who enjoyed watching. It wasn't just the two passes defensed Sunday (one, off a deep post pattern on which Crawley made up ground before batting away the attempt). He showed some moxie and toughness on a fourth-and-6 play from the Saints' 12-yard line, with Carolina trailing 28-14 early in the fourth quarter and needing a touchdown to cut the Saints' lead in half. Cam Newton completed a pass to Devin Funchess and Crawley (6 feet 1, 180 pounds) closed fast, taking down the 6-4, 225-pound receiver at the 7-yard line – one yard short of the first down. We won't overlook linebacker A.J. Klein (a sack, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and five tackles against his former team) or defensive end Cam Jordan (six tackles and a tackle for loss, and two penalties drawn on left tackle Matt Kalil). Crawley, though, was pivotal in his first action after sitting out last week's game with an abdominal injury.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Actually, this one solely was going to belong to quarterback Taysom Hill. Yep, you read that correctly. Because on Sunday, Hill wasn't the Saints' No. 3, inactive quarterback. On Sunday, he was covering kickoffs, rushing punts and doing things that backup quarterbacks generally aren't required to do, and perhaps even are loathe to do. Hill got some special teams reps last week, then went out against the Panthers and made two tackles on kickoff coverage, and came close to blocking a punt. His athleticism is pretty evident. But the honor evenly has to be divided between Hill, the nice surprise, and safety Chris Banjo, one of the regulars. Because Banjo forced a fumble from Carolina punt returner Kaelin Clay, which was recovered by Saints linebacker Craig Robertson. Forcing a turnover on special teams always is huge (it led to a Saints field goal) and when it's done, it has to be noted.
Check out the game action between division rivals in Week 13.