NEW ORLEANS ― No Pierre Thomas.
No Reggie Bush.
For the first time in the 2010 NFL season, the Saints appeared to have control of honest-to-goodness running game.
Ladell Betts and Chris Ivory combined for 114 yards on 25 carries as the Saints beat NFC South rival Carolina 16-14. It was the first time this season the Saints (3-1) have gone above the century mark on the ground.
And while Ivory led the team with 67 yards on the ground, Betts added 47 run yards, 23 receiving yards and a bevy of blitz pickups that aided in the Saints rolling up 275 passing yards and 27 first downs.
“Man, he was awesome,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “He was awesome. He was the MVP of the offense today in my opinion.”
Bush broke his right fibula in New Orleans’ Week 2 win over San Francisco. A week later, Thomas injured an ankle late in the Saints’ loss to Atlanta.
Add to that Lynell Hamilton’s season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear in training camp and P.J. Hill’s season-ending arm injury in a preseason game, the Saints were down to two players who weren’t assured of a spot on the 53-man roster in July.
Five of Betts’ 17 touches were first-down conversions and they came both on the ground and through the air.
“I thought he brought some toughness and I thought it was contagious to our sideline and our offense,” Head Coach Sean Payton said.
Payton pointed out that Betts' physical play was impressive considering he tore the anterior cruciate ligmanet as well as the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in November 2010.
“That’s just part of me m.o.,” Betts said. “That’s how I’ve always played. I kind of consider myself a downhill guy – gritty (and) run through tackles. If it gets guys pumped up, I’m glad about it. It felt good today.”
For Ivory, all was not perfect. He lost a fumble for the second week in a row, this time after a 13-yard run that put the Saints on the cusp of the red zone.
Still, Payton showed confidence in him, running him five more times in the game, including in the second half when the offense was pinned inside its own 10.
“I think I did a pretty good job today except for the fumble,” Ivory said. “I need to make corrections and get better in certain areas. I thought I played pretty good overall though.”
But Sunday was about the reinvention of the running game in New Orleans with two players relatively unknown in the Crescent City prior to July.
“The two guys that played running back today were not even in the top three or four going into training camp this year,” Brees said. “They weren’t even on the team.”