Photos from inside the New Orleans Saints locker room after the win against the Green Bay Packers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, October 26, 2014. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)
"Keep chipping away" was last week's theme for the New Orleans Saints and if the slogan needed a face Sunday night, Mark Ingram's would've been just fine.
New Orleans (3-4) pounded its running game at Green Bay in its 44-23 victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and Ingram served as the sledgehammer. With Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (neck/shoulder) inactive due to injury, and receiving threat Travaris Cadet the other running back, the Saints fed Ingram the ball like they never have, and he responded.
The final line: a career high in carries (24) and rushing yards (172) for the fourth-year back, who capped off the Saints' second-half scoring frenzy with his own personal touchdown drive – five carries for 32 yards, including his 21-yard score, after New Orleans recovered an onside kick with 5:04 left.
"We were clicking," Ingram said. "The offensive line, it started with them. They did a great job of getting push off the ball and creating seams for me to run through and just be able to run hard. All credit to the O-line because without them, nights like this aren't possible."
Deference aside, Ingram also played a significant role in the Saints running for a season-high 193 yards.
The patience and decisiveness he exhibited at the end of last season, during training camp and the first two games this season – he broke his hand and missed three games – again were on display against the Packers (5-3), who entered Sunday on a four-game winning streak.
He had runs of 4, 2, 4, 4, 2 and 2 yards in the first half, which ended respectably for him (10 carries for 48 yards) and his team (a tie score, at 16).
But in the second half, he had pops of 28, 18, 9, 14 and 21 yards, as he gained 124 yards on 14 carries. Alone, Ingram's second half almost topped his previous career-best performance, 14 carries for 145 yards and a touchdown last season against Dallas. And the Saints outscored the Packers 28-7 in the final two quarters.
"I felt like we were going to run the ball," said Ingram, who raised his season totals to 58 carries for 331 yards and four touchdowns. "We've been sticking to it pretty much the entire year. The game was close so I figured that we were just going to continue to run it, continue to run our offense.
"I think that was good that we just kept running the ball. It helped with the play-action – I know we scored a couple of TDs and a couple of big plays off play-action. The run-pass complimented each other."
It's a mix the Saints used effectively down the stretch last season, too, when they won the first road playoff game in franchise history, rushing for 185 yards in the 26-24, wild card victory in Philadelphia.
"Mark had a fantastic game," Coach Sean Payton said. "I thought we had good balance. Credit the offensive line; we challenged them early in the game, starting off with three runs, and part of that is on me. I felt like the balance helped us.
"We got some advantageous looks with some heavy play action shots down the field, out of some run looks. Mark played extremely well. I thought we did a good job up front of giving him some seams, and he took advantage of it."
Teammates, too, noticed the work, which allowed Ingram to more than double his season rushing total (he entered with 159 rushing yards).
"He carried a lot," quarterback Drew Brees said. "He knew he was going to have to, with Pierre and Khiry being absent. He did his job. He had a career night.
"Unbelievable effort on his part individually, but can't say enough about the guys up front. They took the challenge as well. They had their work cut out for them and they stepped up as well."
It's a scenario that Ingram hopes will continue to repeat, perhaps especially with the Saints working on a short week. Thursday night, New Orleans will play Carolina in Charlotte, N.C.
Last year, in that venue, is where Ingram really began to assert himself, rushing 13 times for 83 yards against the Panthers in a 17-13 loss.
"I just try to do my best, do whatever I can to help us win, go out there and make plays and play my heart out," he said. "The offensive line did a great job and we've just got to keep improving, keep getting better. Carolina is a good team, a great team. Those NFC South games are always tough so we're going to have to bring our 'A' game when we go play in Carolina.
"I've just got to keep improving, continuing to improve. That's what it's all about."