The last time the New Orleans Saints had a completely healthy running back corps, with primary ball carriers Mark ingram, Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas all active and available, was Oct. 19 against Detroit.
Six games and seven weeks later, New Orleans again will enter a game with its full complement of runners, Sunday against Carolina in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"It's good just to have the whole backfield back, just have everybody back healthy and ready to go," Ingram said. "It's nothing but a positive."
"We will put together a plan that suits those guys well," Coach Sean Payton said.
Ingram benefited from the thinned ranks the most. After missing three games with a broken hand that required surgery, he became the Saints' primary carrier when Thomas (ribs/shoulder) and Robinson (forearm) missed the next four and six games, respectively, with their injuries. Robinson's required surgery.
In their absence, Ingram ran 104 times for 459 yards and three touchdowns in four games, then added on 34 carries for 149 yards in the two games since Thomas' return. Already this season, the fourth-year back has established single-season highs in carries (172), rushing yards (767), touchdowns (six), receptions (22) and receiving yards (111).
He's averaging 85 rushing yards per game on 19 carries. But the return of Robinson, plus the availability of Thomas, possibly could slice into his workload.
"I just do what I do," Ingram said. "When my number is called, just be ready to go in there and do what I can to help us."
"There are two things," Payton said. "With the first game a player is back, you have to pay close attention to the snaps, but I do not envision it really changing what Mark's been able to do. There will be enough carries in the game and we will be smart about it.
"With Pierre back, it has helped us with some third downs. He gave us some real good snaps just in the base last week (against Pittsburgh)."
Now, Robinson returns to add more punch. He was the Saints' leading rusher at the time he was injured, with 64 carries for 330 yards and two touchdowns.
"Everything happens for a reason," Robinson said. "Watching Mark and everybody just motivated me to hurry up and get back out there. They took care of everything while I was gone. It's a team effort."
Asked if he was prepared for a full workload, Robinson replied, "I'm ready. I'm ready."
However the workload is parsed – Thomas has run 38 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns, and has caught 34 passes for 257 yards and a score – the Saints' running game has been a significant asset this season.
New Orleans is averaging 126.3 rushing yards per game, and 4.7 yards per attempt. In the previous game against Carolina, a 28-10 road victory, the Saints ran for 105 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries.
"When they're running the ball effectively, for the most part, any offense is tough to defend," Panthers Coach Ron Rivera said. "This one even more so because they do have good play action.
"The quarterback (Drew Brees) is very good with his play action, he's a very good vertical passer. You've got to be able to make them one-dimensional and force them to do something they really don't want.
"If you could do that then you have a chance. If not, now what you have to do is be able to react to what you see. Again, when they are running effectively, they are a good football team."