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John DeShazier: Pierre Thomas delivers for the Saints - again

Veteran running back scored two TDs in overtime win over Bucs

There's something to be said for reliability, which means there's plenty to be said about Pierre Thomas.

Full-blown, gushing testimonials by his teammates are the norm and yet, appropriate, even as Thomas navigates his way through his eighth NFL season. So it was expected that the appreciation for him was reaffirmed following New Orleans' 37-31 overtime victory over Tampa Bay in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday.

True, it may have had a twinge of matter-of-factness to it. But, if so, it's because Thomas has done it so well for so long, the expectation of a certain level of productivity has become the norm for the former undrafted rookie.

Thus, his play against the Buccaneers – four carries for 35 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown, and eight catches for 77 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown – was outstanding and routine, inspiring yet anticipated.

"He made some big plays for us," Coach Sean Payton said. "He's been that kind of player for us. He handles a lot of different things. Some of his runs, though, were real impressive.

"He's very smart so from an assignment standpoint, he has good football awareness. Sometimes it might just be picking up a pressure, the next time it might be handling the ball. The touchdown run was real impressive."

It was a tackle-breaking run that pulled the Saints to within 31-26 with 9:28 left in regulation, the first of 17 consecutive points scored by New Orleans to close out the game.

"You've got to have that mind-set," Thomas said. "All great athletes think like that. You want to have that mind-set, 'I'm going to win this game for us.' I had that mind-set, a lot of guys had that mind-set. They wanted to make sure they were that guy that helped us get that first down, helped us get that touchdown."

And that touchdown – plus the screen pass on which he scored – were the latest installments in a career that has seen Thomas run for 3,643 yards and 28 touchdowns on 797 carries, and catch 304 passes for 2,417 yards and 12 scores.

Photos from inside the New Orleans Saints locker room after the team's win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, October 5, 2014. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

He's fourth in franchise history in rushing yards, tied for third in rushing touchdowns, fourth in yards per carry and six catches from sixth place in total receptions (and the only running back in the top seven).

"He's outstanding," quarterback Drew Brees said Sunday. "He's everything that you want in a teammate, not only on game day but throughout the week. His work ethic is professional. He's there whenever we call upon him.

"He can be your two-back, heavy downhill runner. He can be your nickel, picking guys up in protection. He can catch screens. He can pick up check downs. He can do it all.

"He's been here for a long time. He's one of the best all-purpose backs in the league. He's been doing that for a long time."

He's been doing it for 99 games, in fact. And during that time, the Saints always have had a clear understanding of what to expect.

"I guess you can say that's my gift," Thomas said. "I don't have the top speed like some of these guys. Consistency is my gift and what I bring to the table. It helps me out and it helps this team out."

Sunday, it helped the Saints escape trouble.

The team trailed 31-20 with 13:28 left before scoring the final 11 points of regulation and ending the game on the first possession of overtime, via Khiry Robinson's 18-yard touchdown run.

On and off the field, Thomas helped lead the way.

"Pierre is a stud," right tackle Zach Strief said. "I'll tell you this, there was nobody more positive on the sideline throughout that game. We're down 11 points and he's the guy running around, getting everyone going. I think he really thrives on those situations.

"He was huge for us, he was huge in the running game and he was huge in the screen game as well. He's so consistent. He seems to really love playing and I think that's why he's been so successful. He just enjoys it.

"We love him because he's the same guy every day. And when we were down and we needed someone, Pierre was there to step up."

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