There were slim hopes had by the Minnesota Vikings of being able to get into the playoffs. New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara dashed those hopes in spectacular fashion on Christmas Friday. Kamara scored six touchdowns to lead the Saints past the Vikings, 52-33, looking phenomenal throughout as New Orleans clinched its fourth-straight NFC South title.
1) Upon a Christmas stage, Alvin Kamara pranced, danced, dashed and dazzled. He took center stage in a meeting of two of the NFL's finest running backs, as a solid day from Dalvin Cook was left behind right along with an assortment of Vikings would-be tacklers throughout the game. The Saints' dynamic dual threat had cooled off a bit recently after a hot start to the season. He reminded everyone just how sensational his skill set is on Christmas, rushing for a career-high 155 yards on 22 carries with a headline-making, NFL record-tying six rushing touchdowns. And this wasn't Kamara's usual showing -- obviously -- as his success was pretty much all ground-based (he had three catches for 17 yards) and many of his TDs came on hard runs at the goal line. Kamara set the tone with a beautiful 40-yard touchdown run past a batch of befuddled Vikings defenders on the game's opening drive. Cook responded with a touchdown of his own, but Kamara finished the first stanza with 79 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries and any back and forth between Kamara and Cook gave way to the Saints Pro Bowler running away with the spotlight. Touchdowns were had by Kamara in each quarter on an other-worldly outing. For many watching on Friday, Kamara likely gave the gift of a fantasy football championship, but for the Saints (11-4), he led them to a much-needed triumph heading into the postseason, getting them back on the winning track and providing a huge reminder to the rest of the playoff field that a bad, bad man is in the Saints backfield.
2) Realistic hopes of the Vikings (6-9) reaching the postseason crumbled in a Week 15 loss and any possibility of a Minnesota miracle of a playoff berth was expunged by the Saints and the educated feet of Kamara on Friday. Upon the club's official elimination from the postseason race, there's bound to be fallout. Kicker Dan Bailey, who missed another PAT in this one, is sure to be gone, but beyond that footnote, there should be reason for promise within the Vikings organization. Questions will seemingly always swirl around Kirk Cousins, but he's rebounded within this season for a solid campaign and had a very good game against a very good Saints defense with 291 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Cook (15 carries for 73 yards and a TD) is one of the best running backs in the NFL. Justin Jefferson (85 receiving yards on six catches) has a shot in the final game to set a new rookie record for receiving yards, and he pairs with Adam Thielen (eight catches for 97 yards and a score) as one of the best receiving tandems in the league. Second-year tight end Irv Smith (two touchdowns) is coming into his own. The defense has been bad, there's no arguing that. But much of that is due to a huge offseason of turnover and inexperience and youth in abundance. Even though head coach Mike Zimmer ripped the defense after the game, one has to believe a full offseason will bode well for improvement. The immediate future for the Vikings ends after Week 17, but beyond that, Minnesota has promise on its roster for seasons to come, never mind the finality that came with Friday.
3) As the Saints have sewn up a fourth-straight NFC South title on Christmas, of perhaps equal importance in the here and now is that New Orleans bounced back from a two-game skid at a crucial time. Kamara's monster day will rightfully garner the attention, but the Saints looked solid in every phase. Albeit, with the defense having allowed 33 points, that looks a bit confusing, but such things happen in blowouts. The Saints were on the verge of blowing this one out for much of the contest, but a pair of Drew Brees interceptions largely delayed it. New Orleans' defense held the Vikings to 90 yards rushing and the offense to 3 for 9 on third downs. New Orleans' offense had 583 yards and never punted. New Orleans' special teams saw Wil Lutz go a perfect 8 for 8 -- seven extra points in there. Overshadowed by Kamara's histrionics is that this is exactly what the Saints needed. They got back to winning, they were impressive and they're off and running as the postseason beckons.
4) This had all the makings of an enthralling Kamara-versus-Cook showdown. The game's opening drive saw Kamara score from 40 out and the Vikings' ensuing drive culminated when Cook scored from 15 out. But Kamara wasn't in a sharing mood and the way in which the game played out didn't allow the Vikings to feed Cook as they often do. He finished with 73 yards on 15 carries. His output was enough for him to become the first Vikings back to post 1,500 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns in a single season. That's quite an accomplishment considering Adrian Peterson's prime years, in which he was considered one of the NFL's elite regardless of position, came in Minnesota. The game also reinforced what a driving force Cook is. When Cook is allowed to dictate the tempo and lead the Vikings, that's when victories are more often had. When Cook doesn't get going -- or such as this one, doesn't get to keep going -- it doesn't bode well for Minnesota.
5) In his second game back, Brees was 19 for 26 for 311 yards -- and moved past 80,000 yards for his career. His sharp statistics told a slightly different story from the tape. He's still not at his best and likely ailing from the busted ribs that sidelined him. Brees had two interceptions, though one went off Emmanuel Sanders' hands. He had a potential third called back. The good news is he looked better than he did in Week 15 against the Chiefs. There's one game remaining for Brees and the Saints before the playoffs. They're currently the No. 2 seed behind the Packers, so there's a chance they'll have something to play for in that respect, but there's also still some rust for Brees to shake off. Then comes the postseason and the surefire Hall of Famer playing potentially for the last time for as long as the Saints can keep going. Even in a blowout, there are nits that can be picked. Brees was better today, but not at his best from this campaign.
6) This was Kamara's day – and a big day at that. But it also reinforced just how important and impressive Latavius Murray is. In an avalanche of offense that happens when a team piles up 500-plus yards, Murray's numbers might look somewhat pedestrian, but having the ability to turn to Murray in the running game or passing attack is a luxury for the Saints. Murray racked up seven yards a carry on 12 rushes for 72 yards and added three catches for 24 yards. He fits the Saints so well. Saying they don't miss a beat when he comes in for Kamara would be off key, but Murray is a crucial piece for New Orleans. Like so many teams, the Saints have dealt with injury problems in a 2020 campaign that seems longer than any before it, but Murray is an example of the depth on the team that's enabled it to stay atop the division and among the NFC's best.
7) This was the first Christmas game since Week 16 of 2009 and the 22nd in NFL history, per NFL Research. But more emblematic of the 2020 season than any yule tide history, this was a Friday game. As the Saints and Vikings began play on Friday, this became the first season in NFL chronicle in which a game has been played on every day of the week. The season's been marked by some Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday action in addition to the usual Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays, and this one and only Friday. Three times previously, in 1927 (all but Monday) and 1938 and 1948 (all but Tuesday), the NFL had games on six days, according to NFL Research. That was a long time ago and a far different time, of course. But a trivia note on this Christmas Friday is even more evidence of just what a different time it is in this NFL season and 2020. On this Christmas, the NFL gave us a seventh day of football.