By Todd Fredrickson
SEATTLE — The one thing the Seattle Seahawks had to do on defense Sunday against the New Orleans Saints was contain Alvin Kamara.
The one thing.
Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was not going to torch them the way injured starter Drew Brees might, so all they had to do was keep Kamara under wraps.
And while the Pro Bowl running back’s numbers won’t light up your fantasy league, he starred in all three New Orleans touchdown drives as the Saints came into CenturyLink Field and beat the Seahawks 33-27 in an NFL game that wasn’t nearly as competitive as the score suggests.
“He’s a great player. He can do everything,” Seattle defensive end Quinton Jefferson said of Kamara. “He runs the ball hard and you’ve got to really put your body on him. Hats off to him for having a great game.”
Kamara had 25 touches for 161 yards and two touchdowns, 69 yards on the ground and 92 yards on nine pass receptions.
A lot of those yards came after first contact as he broke countless tackles throughout the game.
In terms of scheme and assignment, the Seahawks seemed to do a pretty good job of keeping Kamara in their sights.
The matter of tackling him to the ground, however, was quite a different story.
“That’s on us, the missed tackles,” Seattle cornerback Shaquill Griffin said. “A guy like that, we knew right from the jump that he was going to be a difficult person to tackle and we let that kind of thing get away from us.”
“A guy like that, you have to make sure you take him all the way to the ground,” Griffin said.
Kamara scored New Orleans’ first offensive touchdown on a 29-yard screen pass with 33 seconds remaining in the first half.
At a time when the Saints (2-1) probably would have been content to end the half with a field goal, Kamara took a pass from Bridgewater in the right flat, bowled over two Seattle defensive backs and tip-toed down the sideline to give the Saints a 20-7 halftime lead.
“He’s like a human joystick,” Bridgewater said of Kamara. “You give him the ball and he’s spinning, juking, bouncing off of guys. As a quarterback, you can give him a screen and just watch the play happen and it’s like, ‘Man, this guy is a bad man.’
“We’re glad he’s on our team.”
Kamara, a third-year player from the University of Tennessee, ran for 16 yards on the first play of the second half. Later in that drive he motored through and around several defenders on an 8-yard reception to get the ball to the Seattle 1-yard line, setting up a touchdown that made it 27-7.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Kamara carried the ball six times on an eight-play drive that he capped with a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 33-14 and end all doubt.
“I feel like he’s definitely, probably the best, especially at keeping his feet moving,” Jefferson said of Kamara. “He runs hard as hell, he doesn’t want to go down, and with him you’ve got to lay heavy and run your feet.
“Sometimes we were shoulder tackling, arm tackling. That’s not going to cut it,” Jefferson said. “He’s one of the best backs in the league, and he’s not going to go down with an arm tackle.”
Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner had a career-high 18 tackles, several of them after teammates bounced off of Kamara, who is 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds.
He was frustrated that the Seahawks seemed to have a good plan but failed to execute it.
“We had to rely on tackling, try to keep everything in front of us,” Wagner said. “We knew they weren’t going to go deep so we tried to keep everything in front. We’ve just had to do a better job of tackling and a better job of keeping points off the board.”
Bridgewater’s longest completion was the 29-yard screen pass to Kamara. His second-longest was 18 yards to wide receiver Michael Thomas.
Kamara had nine receptions for 92 yards. All the other Saints combined had 10 catches for 85.
“They did what we thought they were going to do,” Wagner said. “We didn’t think they were going to air it out like Brees does.”
Wagner was asked if perhaps this young Seattle team (2-1) might have taken this assignment lightly with Brees out of the lineup.
He didn’t exactly squash the suggestion.
“You just have to understand that you have to play your best football,” he said. “No matter who’s out there on the field, if you don’t come out ready to play, they’ll beat you. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. No matter if you’re playing a team that’s 15-0 or a team that’s 1-15, you have to bring your best every single time.”
“I would like to say that we didn’t take Teddy (Bridgewater) lightly,” Wagner said. “I would like to say that we didn’t let that respect fall because Brees wasn’t playing.”
He was asked if he really believed that.
“I would like to believe that, yes.”
If that’s a lesson these Seahawks needed to learn, it’s a painful one. In a season of just 16 games, you can’t afford to give one away at home against a backup quarterback.
The Saints were left with one real weapon on offense, and although a punt return and a fumble return will occupy the headlines, the Seahawks let that one man do enough damage to them on defense to seal the deal.