Saints leaned heavily on RB Alvin Kamara in his season debut

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara led the team in receptions (13), carries (11) and rushing yards (51) in his season debut after serving a three-game suspension. Matthew Hinton/USA TODAY Sports

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara made his season debut Sunday after serving a three-game suspension for his role in a 2022 fight in Las Vegas, and the offense leaned heavily on him in the 26-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Quarterback Derek Carr, who has been recovering from a shoulder injury, said on Sunday that he wished he could've utilized Kamara more.

"Alvin is an unbelievable player," Carr said. "I just wish I could have gotten it to him in different ways or better."

Kamara had 33 receiving yards, but he led the team in receptions (13), rushing yards (51) and rushing attempts (11). Kamara had the most receptions of any Saints player since he caught 13 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 27, 2020. It was also tied for the second-highest amount of receptions in his career.

Carr -- who went 23-of-37 passing for 127 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions -- relied on Kamara out of the backfield. He averaged 3.43 yards per-pass -- which was the second lowest of his career.

"There were some things that were obviously designed for certain reasons, designed things that we were trying to do, to try and get [Kamara] in space and things like that," Carr said. "They did a good job of trying to stay on top of some things really."

Kamara's day also had the distinction of setting a dubious record. It was the first time that a player had 13 or more catches and so few yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The previous record was set by Buccaneers running back James Wilder, who had 13 receptions for 71 yards in 1985.

Quarterback Taysom Hill currently leads the team in rushing yards (101) and single-game rushing yards (75 yards against the Carolina Panthers) this season, but in Week 4, Kamara had the most rushing yards for a Saints running back in a game.

Saints coach Dennis Allen said they were able to open up the run game a little more in the second half against the Buccaneers after rushing five times for 18 yards in the first.

"I thought early in the game, he was maybe operating a little bit fast, and I thought there were a couple of cuts there that maybe we could have gotten a little bit more out of it," Allen said. "But I thought overall, it was a solid performance."

The Saints have not been able to run the ball consistently without Kamara, first turning to Jamaal Williams, who went on injured reserve ahead of their Week 3 matchup with the Packers, and then to Tony Jones Jr., who was called up from the practice squad after Williams went down. Rookie Kendre Miller missed the first two games with a hamstring injury and got the majority of the carries against Green Bay, but he only played five snaps once Kamara returned.

Allen and the players said there were a number of reasons for the offensive struggles. The offensive line struggles have been one issue, and injuries to the interior didn't help with guards Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz in concussion protocol.

Carr did not say whether his injury played a part in the play design that kept most of the passes well short of the sticks, but he did say the offense doesn't want to rely on horizontal throws -- the rest of team caught only 11 of the Saints' 24 completions.

"We're going to do everything we can to find ways to ... spread it horizontally and vertically," Carr said. "There were a few opportunities where we tried to and they did a good job on those where they covered them.

"We did have to check down today, and we did have to get off the spot on some things -- I missed one at the sideline. And so, there's a lot of things that we can point out, but it all comes back to everyone just doing their job at a high level."