After Saints running back Alvin Kamara followed a road-grading offensive line for his third rushing touchdown just before halftime of the Vikings' 52-33 loss on Friday, he pursued Saints running backs coach Joel Thomas on the sideline with a question reflecting his thoughts of Minnesota's porous defense: "What's the NFL record for rushing touchdowns in a game?"
Kamara eyed his mark halfway toward tying one of the longest-standing NFL records — six rushing touchdowns set by Ernie Nevers for the 1929 Chicago Cardinals — on what was also one of the most embarrassing days in the history of the Vikings defense.
"He came back and told me six," said Kamara, who finished with 155 rushing yards and six touchdowns. "[I said] let's go; maybe I can get it."
Kamara nearly fell a score short. Saints head coach Sean Payton said he chose the best play for his team when gadget quarterback Taysom Hill — not Kamara — ran for a 1-yard touchdown with four minutes left in regulation.
"I wasn't even really worried about it," Kamara said. "I said shoot, it's all good. We right there. I'm second, at least."
But Payton added insult to the Vikings' defensive injuries with a play-action pass on second down in the closing minutes, springing Saints tight end Adam Trautman for a 41-yard catch and run that set up Kamara's NFL record-tying sixth touchdown. The record was a big deal, Payton said, and he was going for it at the end.
Kamara is one of four players to ever score six touchdowns in an NFL game, and the first since Gale Sayers in 1965.
"I'd say most of these players have no idea how good Gale Sayers was," Payton said. "But growing up in Chicago, certainly you were familiar with his ability and I was happy. It was a big deal. He played fantastic [Sunday]. Look, Minnesota was banged up today, too. They had a lot of new faces playing linebacker. It's been a little unusual year that way."
Only four Vikings defensive starters — safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, linebacker Eric Wilson and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen — remained the same from the Vikings' January playoff win in New Orleans.
Undrafted rookie Blake Lynch became the seventh different linebacker to start for the Vikings this season when he replaced the injured Todd Davis (ribs) against the Saints. Lynch had played just one NFL snap on defense before Friday, when he led with 10 combined tackles (none for a loss) on a day the Vikings gave up 264 rushing yards, the most under coach Mike Zimmer.
Inexperience wasn't an excuse for that poor of a showing, Zimmer said postgame, with missed tackles piling up between rookies and established veterans alike.
"I don't think being young has got anything to do with tackling," Zimmer said. "They manhandled us up front pretty well with the front guys and linebackers, but we didn't tackle."