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John DeShazier: Top Saints performers vs. 49ers

Mark Ingram shined vs. 49ers

OFFENSE: You can't keep a good man down. And, man, did running back Mark Ingrambounce back in a gigantic way – 15 carries for 158 yards, including the longest touchdown run (75 yards) of his career in the second quarter, which lifted the Saints to a 28-10 lead. The seventh 100-yard rushing game of Ingram's career was a particularly special one because it came a week after he was benched against Seattle. He fumbled in consecutive games – in the red zone against Kansas City, and one that was returned for a touchdown by Seattle – and that left open the door for Tim Hightowerto rush for 102 yards on 26 carries in the victory over the Seahawks. But against San Francisco, Ingram showed why he has been the team's top back the last few seasons; not just the 75-yard sprint, but also the series of four-, five- and six-yard runs that helped the Saints control the ball for almost 39 of the game's 60 minutes. The Saints ran for 248 yards on 42 carries, the most they ever have run for under Coach Sean Payton.Honorable mention sticker goes to the collective offensive line that opened the holes for him and kept Drew Breesclean against San Francisco. Left tackle Terron Armsteadstarted but left after suffering a left leg injury, and that ailment appears to be one that's going to linger. But Andrus Peatagain shifted from left guard to tackle, Senio Kelemeteentered to play guard, and the rest of the line (center Max Unger, right guard Jahri Evansand right tackle Zach Strief) remained as solid as they've been all season, with an assist from tackle-eligible Tim Lelito.

DEFENSE: Linebacker Nate Stuparis making a habit of getting into the middle of things, and it's working out well for the Saints. Stupar proved to be a huge momentum-stopper again Sunday, as San Francisco looked to mount a comeback. The Niners had possession to open the third quarter and drove to the Saints' 8-yard line in six plays. From there, on second-and-1, running back Mike Davistook a handoff and bulled his way for seven yards. But as he neared the 1, Stupar, who was making the tackle, jarred the ball loose and recovered the fumble, preserving the Saints' 31-20 lead. From virtually sure points, to no points, and the fire was smothered. For Stupar, who had six tackles, it was the second consecutive game that he came up with a significant turnover – his leaping interception against Seattle also helped douse a Seahawks potential rally.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The one consistent bit of excellence with the special teams units has been punter Thomas Morstead, who again put on a nice exhibition. Four punts for a 52.5-yard average, with two of them inside the 20-yard line and all of them with marvelous hang time. San Francisco returned three punts for 23 yards. Morstead has been steady all season and now that he no longer handles kickoffs, he's as healthy and fresh as he ever has been at this stage of a season.

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