Against Carolina, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Seattle – the latter two, road playoff games – Ingram fell into the best groove of his Saints career, when he ran for 249 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries, 5.7 yards per carry.
Subtract the regular-season finale against the Buccaneers, a 42-17 victory in which he ran three times for 20 yards, and the numbers are even more impressive – 229 yards and a score on 41 carries, an average of 14 carries for 76 yards per game, in games that were decided by four, two and eight points.
That’s the momentum Ingram carried into the offseason, and it’s the momentum he hopes to carry into the 2014 regular season.
“I just want to continue where I left off,” he said. “I was able to get some touches, get into a rhythm toward the end of the year, so I just want to keep going.”
Even the loss in Seattle, in the divisional playoffs against the eventual Super Bowl champions, in a game where Ingram lost a critical fumble, serves as a reminder of the team’s potential, Ingram said.
“If we control the line of scrimmage, we can run the football effectively,” he said. “It opens our game as an offense. We made a few mistakes (against the Seahawks), turnovers and stuff like that. But we can go on the road and play with anybody, play with the best teams in this league. If we just do what we do, we can beat anybody.
“I think when we can run the ball effectively, I think that’s when our offense is most productive. It gives our offense variety, from passing to running play action. So when we run the ball effectively I think that’s when we’re at our best.”
Ingram’s presence on the field coincided with some of the times the Saints ran it best. He posted a career-high 145 yards and a touchdown against Dallas in a regular-season game on Nov. 10, but also got off to a slow start (17 carries for 31 yards in the first two games) and missed five games with a toe injury.
Still, the late rush helped him average 4.9 yards per carry during the regular season and 5.2 in the playoffs.
“I think he was healthier as the season wore on,” Coach Sean Payton said. “You saw that in the way he ran. He feels good. He’s 100 percent. He’s doing well. The evaluation on the runners right now is more difficult (because of no-pad workouts). I think you really saw in the last part of the season his play improved.”
Said running backs coach Dan Roushar: “I think one of the things you’re seeing is, his maturation is starting to show. He’s coming into the meetings with what I think is great focus. I think he’s trying to dial in to the details, the small things. Yet, at the same time, I think he’s still a very hungry player. I would say right now he’s every bit where he was, and then some, as he was at this time last year.
“There’s some confidence. But at the same time, he’s a guy that’s going to play with a chip on his shoulder, he’s got an edge about him. He has to play that way. There’s some real positives to build on. (But) I think Mark is hungry to improve as an all-around football player, be better in protection, be a better outlet when we get him in the pass game, catch the football more consistently and take care of it.”
Ingram said he’s more comfortable with the offense, and confident in the knowledge that given the ball, the production can follow.
“I don’t know what (my role) is going to be,” he said. “Hopefully, I’m taking on more of a role but I’m just out here worrying about getting better every day, improving every day and that’s pretty much it. Taking it one day at a time.
“I’ve been in the offense going on four years, so I’m real comfortable when I hear calls in the huddle. I know when I break the huddle what I need to look for, what I need to do and how I need to execute it.
“I think whenever I have an opportunity to get into a rhythm and get touches, I think I can be effective. Toward the end of the year I was able to get a lot of touches, get into a rhythm and show what I can do. Hopefully, it continues.”