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John DeShazier: Saints top performers vs. Buccaneers

Offensive line, Mark Ingram turn in strong performances

OFFENSE: Thirteen days ago the New Orleans Saints ran for 46 yards on 16 carries in their 16-11, road loss to Tampa Bay. Mark Ingramtopped those numbers by himself in Saturday's 31-24 victory, running for 90 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, and leading a rushing attack that totaled 123 yards on 31 carries. Of course, kudos belong to the offensive line (Ingram was untouched on his second touchdown, a 14-yarder in the third quarter). The line has been nothing short of amazing in how that unit has held together and performed this season while left tackle Terron Armsteadshuttled in and out of the lineup due to injury. Andrus Peathas shown tremendous growth in his second season filling in for Armstead, and starting at left guard when Armstead was available. But Ingram, who now has rushed for 940 yards this season, isn't just 25 rushing yards and one touchdown (he has a combined nine rushing and receiving) away from topping his single-season highs in each category. He was theback when the Saints went for the closeout in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. After the Saints recovered Tampa Bay's onside kick with 1:59 left, and with the Buccaneers owning three timeouts, Ingram ran over right guard for seven yards, over left guard for two and again over right guard for 10 yards to get the Saints the first down they needed to run out the clock. He has responded admirably after being benched against Seattle for fumbling, and continues to roll.

DEFENSE: Nov. 17, 2013. That was the last time that safety Jairus Byrdhad a two-interception game. He duplicated that feat in Saturday's win, and both were pivotal for the Saints. His third-quarter interception – he returned it 24 yards, to the Tampa Bay 14-yard line – led to Ingram's touchdown run on the next play, which gave the Saints a 20-7 lead. The fact that it occurred on the second play of Tampa Bay's drive to open the second half essentially had the effect of the Saints stealing a possession; only 59 seconds had elapsed when Ingram scored. In the fourth quarter, with the Saints leading 31-21 and Tampa Bay driving, his second interception came on third-and-14 after the Bucs had reached the Saints' 28, taking away a scoring opportunity for Tampa Bay. Byrd finished with six tackles, including a tackle for loss. But, more important, he showed the range and instincts that led to him being a prized free agent signee in 2014. Coach Sean Paytonsaid that Byrd has been playing his best football as a Saint in recent weeks, and Saturday's game was a good example of it.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Wil Lutzmade three short field goals (42, 34 and 21 yards) to extend his consecutive makes streak to 11, and that's impressive considering the miscues that have happened in the kicking game previously. But two plays that may get overlooked will earn stickers for two players who might have been overlooked. First, while Bucs receiver Josh Huffmade a mess of receiving the second-half kickoff, dropping it and picking it up and botching the handling, cornerback De'Vante Harriswas the first Saint to reach him and tackle him at the 4-yard line. Ultimately, on second-and-11 from the 3, Jameis Winstonthrew the first of his two interceptions to Byrd. The second play was this: receiver Brandin Cookscleanly recovered the onside kick from Tampa Bay with 1:59 left. It wasn't a mind-blowing play, but it assured that the Saints would have possession and they went on to run out the clock behind three strong runs by Ingram. It was a fundamental play that was properly executed, and there's something to be said for that this season.

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