Boom and zoom: Saints' Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram making NFL history

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METAIRIE, La. -- Of all the nickname suggestions Mark Ingram has seen -- and there have been a lot -- he likes "Boom and Zoom" the best so far.

For one thing, Ingram said he had never heard it before. More importantly, with that nickname, the New Orleans Saints' veteran running back doesn't feel like he's getting stuck with the boring power-runner label alongside electrifying breakout rookie Alvin Kamara.

"See, 'Boom' is all of it. It's explosive, it's fast, it's powerful. So I don't mind boom," Ingram said. "It's like, 'BOOM!'"

When he puts it that way, it's hard to argue.

The Saints (9-3) have exploded back into playoff contention this season behind their prolific backfield pairing, which is on pace to make NFL history as they head into Thursday night's NFC South showdown with the rival Atlanta Falcons (7-5).

Ingram, who is expected to play Thursday after dealing with a toe injury, is on pace for 1,569 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns this season. If he's unable to play, Kamara should be able to pick up the slack, given that he is on pace for even more yards from scrimmage (1,627) and more touchdowns (15).

No duo has ever come close to those numbers. The only two running backs to reach 1,400 scrimmage yards each while in the same backfield were the Cleveland Browns' Earnest Byner (1,462) and Kevin Mack (1,401) in 1985, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The only duo in the past 31 years to surpass 1,300 yards each was the Jacksonville Jaguars' Fred Taylor (1,388) and Maurice Jones-Drew (1,377) in 2006. The Saints' Reggie Bush (1,307) and Deuce McAllister (1,255) came close that season while helping lead New Orleans to the NFC Championship Game.

"We're trying to be the best ever. We've been telling you that," said Ingram, who said he and Kamara feed off each other. "We go hand in hand. If I'm punishing 'em, hitting it downhill, hitting 'em in the mouth, and he comes in and he goes around the edge and he's breaking tackles and making people miss, scoring touchdowns, man, we both benefit."

"It goes both ways, I think," Kamara added when they did their postgame interview together after Sunday's 31-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers, something that has become a weekly routine for the NFL's most devastating 1-2 punch.

The way these two have embraced their partnership is one of the best things about it.

Ingram joked that he had to "get my best Alvin Kamara on" with his 72-yard run against the Panthers, which included making safety Mike Adams miss him three times with two nasty cutbacks and a stiff-arm.

"I'm trying to go in ‘Matrix mode,'" Ingram added, referring to how Kamara described his ability to make defenders miss.

Meanwhile, Kamara said he was on the sideline, cheering Ingram on every step of the way.

"Man, I'm hyped," Kamara said. "I'm running down, I was almost about to run on the field."

Excited for each other

Saints coach Sean Payton said he loves the versatility of Kamara and Ingram as runners, receivers and pass-protectors because he can use them interchangeably, and it "creates less stress on me as a playcaller."

But what Payton said he likes even more is "when I see guys excited genuinely for each other, regardless of whether it's their carry or their play or [receiver Brandon] Coleman's block or someone else. As soon as you start getting that on the team, guys caring more about the win and less about their own, then you begin to have a chance to have something."

McAllister, who now calls Saints games for WWL Radio, has seen the same thing. He knows it isn't easy for running backs to split time because they like to get in rhythm. But as he remembered from that 2006 season with Bush, "We kind of fed off each other."

"There's some of that, 'If you can do this, I can do this as well.' And it's fun, but it's for the betterment of the team," McAllister said. "They want each other to do well."

Still, he admits, "How they've been able to both produce so far, it's just been remarkable to see."

Here's some more history that puts their amazing feat into perspective:

  • Kamara and Ingram are the first running back duo since the San Francisco 49ers' Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler in 1985 to each have at least 100 yards from scrimmage in the same game four times in a season (per the Elias Sports Bureau).

  • The last duo to each average 95-plus scrimmage yards and score five-plus TDs in a season was Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen for the 1987 Raiders (NFL Research).

  • Ingram needs one more TD to reach 10. The last time an NFL team had two running backs with more than 1,000 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns each was in 1998, with the Cincinnati Bengals' Ickey Woods and James Brooks (ESPN Stats and Info).

  • Finally, Ingram and Kamara have been so good that future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson was deemed expendable, leading to a Week 6 trade to the Arizona Cardinals.

'Crazy how it's been happening'

The Saints tried to create more of a 1-2-3 punch this season with Ingram, Peterson and Kamara, whom they drafted out of Tennessee in the third round with the belief that he would be more of a pass-catcher and "joker" back, like former Saints Bush and Darren Sproles.

But there wasn't much of a role for Peterson after the Saints realized how good Kamara is as a runner.

Kamara has 606 rushing yards and 614 receiving yards. He is averaging 7.0 yards per carry, 1.6 more yards than any other qualifying running back in the league (Alfred Morris is second, with 5.4).

"If we had known what we were gonna get as a runner, we wouldn't have taken him in the third round," Payton said. "We would have taken him earlier. Might not have been good for [11th overall pick Marshon] Lattimore. Who knows?"

As a team, the Saints are leading the NFL with 5.0 yards per carry and 19 rushing touchdowns. They rank third in the league with 142.6 rushing yards per game.

McAllister said the astronomical yardage totals that both backs are putting up "tells you they're getting big plays, so a lot of the congrats or accolades have to go to the offensive linemen and tight ends and fullbacks and receivers."

McAllister also pointed out that he has yet to see a defense really commit to stopping the Saints' run game, which is the "beauty" of still having "No. 9" (Drew Brees) in the backfield.

Brees is not having his most prolific season at age 38, and the downfield passing game has not consistently been there for the Saints. But Brees is still leading the NFL with a 71.5 percent completion percentage, he has a 104.2 passer rating, and he is on pace for 4,397 passing yards.

Ingram has been stuck in timeshares in a pass-first offense for most of his seven-year career in New Orleans, which was admittedly frustrating for him in the early years, when he was used in a less versatile role behind guys such as Sproles and Pierre Thomas while also battling a series of nagging injuries.

But Ingram kept the faith that he and the Saints' run game had this type of potential.

"I felt like it was a possibility if we ran the ball. I just know this offense is wide-open, and it puts playmakers in position to make plays," Ingram said. "So I felt like if we committed to giving backs carries, it was possible. Especially for one, but maybe not two. But it's just crazy how it's been happening this year.

"Me and Alvin have just been preparing well, the offensive line, receivers, tight ends, fullback, our game plans from our coaches, everything's been going well, we've been executing. It's just crazy how it's been happening."

Ingram also admitted, "I still want to be in there more and carry the ball more." But he obviously sees the benefit of taking turns.

"It's working, and there are enough touches for both of us," he said. "We're both staying healthy, we're both staying fresh, and we're able to make it work and put ourselves in position to help our team win games. And that's what we want to do."