NEW ORLEANS -- Rookie running back Alvin Kamara compiled 126 offensive yards and scored two touchdowns to power the New Orleans Saints to a 31-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday. Kamara scored on runs of 2 and 20 yards.
The win lifted the Saints into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
In sweeping the season series with the Panthers (8-4), the 9-3 Saints took a one-game lead in the division, which is essentially a two=-game lead, using a powerful running game to gain 148 yards against the league's third-best rushing defense. The Panthers, who had won four straight and seven of their last eight games, had entered the game having allowed just 83.2 yards rushing per game.
Mark Ingram II ripped off the second-longest run of his career -- 72 yards -- to set up his 3-yard scoring run in the first half.
The Saints took a 31-14 lead with 6:09 left on Wil Lutz's 31-yard field goal. Kamara's 20-yard touchdown run on the Saints' first possession of the second half gave the Saints a 28-14 lead.
Kamara finished with 60 yards rushing and 66 yards on five catches. Ingram rushed for 85 yards on 14 carries.
The Saints dominated much of the first half, leading 21-7 and heading toward another possible score, when tight end Josh Hill had the ball punched out of his arms by Carolina safety Mike Adams. Linebacker Luke Kuechly recovered the fumble at the New Orleans 45-yard line.
Four plays later, quarterback Cam Newton found running back Christian McCaffrey alone on the left sideline for a 21-yard touchdown that cut the deficit to 21-14.
The Saints took a 7-0 lead by taking the opening kickoff 70 yards in 11 plays, capped by Kamara's 2-yard run. Carolina answered with a 75-yard, 10-play drive of its own, getting the tying score on a 2-yard leap by Jonathan Stewart.
The Saints regained a 14-7 lead by going 84 yards in just three plays -- all of them rushes. Ingram made the big play on first down, racing 72 yards from the New Orleans 16 to the Panthers' 12. Ingram scored his ninth touchdown of the season with a 3-yard run.
A botched snap by Carolina punter Michael Palardy gave New Orleans the ball at the Panthers' 31, and Brees made the Panthers pay with a 10-yard scoring strike to Thomas. The drive was kept alive by a crucial personal foul by defensive end Julius Peppers for hitting Kamara out of bounds on third down.
NOTES: New Orleans RB Mark Ingram's 72-yard run in the second quarter was the second-longest of his career. He had a 75-yarder last year against San Francisco. ... Saints LT Andrus Peat allowed two first-half sacks to Carolina DE Mario Addison. ... With a 32-yard pass to WR Michael Thomas in the fourth quarter, QB Drew Brees posted his 6,126th career completion, moving him past Peyton Manning into second place all-time in the NFL. Brett Favre is first.