NEW ORLEANS — Mark Ingram stood at his locker Sunday night, his gold chain draped over his traps and underneath a black T-shirt and talked about his breakthrough night.
And he talked.
And he talked some more, to a rotating cast of TV cameras, microphones and reporters audio recorders.
Hours after boos rained down from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome stands after he failed to corral a pass, he was no longer the goat.
No, he was the first Saints running back to go over the century mark and he did it in Heisman-like fashion.
To which most would say it’s about time.
So, forgive him for culling a ticky-tack delay of game penalty for spinning the ball in an emotional outburst after his initial big run of the night, a 13-yarder at left tackle.
Not that his teammates are going to hold that against him.
“It was well-deserved after what he'd gone through earlier this season,” fellow running back Pierre Thomas said. “He needed to get that out. ... I believe it was all frustration what he was going through, and he was getting it all out of his system, just getting himself hyped, like, 'Ok, let's get back to being Mark Ingram,' who he is, the style of runner he is, and everybody knows how he can run.
“And I believe that was a release point. He needed to get it out of his system. I think everybody else recognized that.”
The play was unlike anything we’ve seen in Ingram’s short time in New Orleans. For the first time in a long time, he looked like the player who won the Heisman Trophy and coaxed the Saints into moving up in the draft to grab him.
The flow of the play went to the right but Ingram felt the opening happen to his left and he bounced it that way. There was no hesitation in his step and, 13 yards down the field, it took about seven players to finally bring him down.
It was plays like that that helped Ingram finish with a career-best 145 yards and a staggering 10.4 yards per carry average.
"You saw a player that ran hard and had holes and did a lot of the things that I'm sure he felt he could do, and he got the right opportunity and the right number of touches,” Payton said. “... He played exceptionally well."
“I feel like I always have something to prove, every time I step foot on that field I play with a chip on my shoulder,” Ingram said. “And I do whatever I can to help our team win games. That’s what I work for every single game.”
Ingram has spent much of his time battling just about everything in New Orleans, whether it’s the fans, injuries or his place on the depth chart.
And a week ago, he had to watch as Chris Ivory, the back many fans wanted to stick around instead of Ingram, ran for 139 yards and chewed up the Saints defense. Meanwhile, Ingram ran for 19 yards on four carries and New Orleans ran the ball only 13 times in a 26-20 loss.
It didn’t help that on the first series, he dropped a catchable pass and fans booed. Incessantly, you might say.
He wasn’t bothered.
“The boos don’t bother me,” Ingram said. “You know, what the fans think really doesn’t bother me, really doesn’t affect me. I know what I can do. I know what type of player I am. How hard I work every single day, week in and week out, preparing for the games.
“That stuff doesn’t affect me at all because at the end of the day all that matters is what’s in this locker room, what’s in this organization and what they know is going on.”
Following is ‘Four Plays from Sunday,’ our weekly breakdown of some big plays that affected the Saints game. There were too many to choose from this week so we shortened to four plays – three Ingram runs and a big Corey White play.
Ingram Break Out Saints ball, First-and-10 at the Dallas 35, 9:03 to go First Quarter: The Saints set up in a basic setup – five linemen, a tight end to the left, two receivers and two running backs. Ingram lined up behind fullback Jed Collins with Marques Colston split wide right and Kenny Stills wide left.
Watson motioned to the right and the Cowboys brought up two defenders to defend the right side of New Orleans’ line. At the snap, the entire flow of the Saints offense goes to the right and Ingram takes the handoff, following Collins, his lead blocker, to the B gap between the right guard and tackle.
Dallas has the entire right side bottled up and if Ingram doesn’t freelance, feeling a backside opening, the play gains only one or two yards. But the young running back catches the wide open field away from the flow and cuts back, no hesitation seen.
He runs right by Dallas linebacker Ernie Sims, who by the time he turns around, is nearly two yards behind Ingram.
Stills is blocking cornerback Orlando Scandrick, but isn’t fully engaged after having jogged off the line at the snap. While safety Jeff Heath dives at Ingram slowing him down, it’s Scandrick’s presence that halts the play ultimately. Ingram, of course, could have chosen to run at Heath, but tries to cut outside.
Nonetheless, it takes nearly seven Cowboys to finally bring Ingram down and after he gets up, he violently spins the ball on the ground, his head down, hands pumping toward his face in an emotional outburst. The spin drew a delay of game penalty, ticky-tack if you ask me, but the emotion was well-deserved.
“I just play with a lot of passion, man,” Ingram said. “And I was frustrated with myself because I thought I should’ve gotten more out of the run than I did. And I hate to hurt the team. But I play with a lot of passion.”
Saints ball, First-and-10 at the New Orleans 32, 10:13 to go Third Quarter:
The Saints lined up in the same formation with the same personnel as Ingram’s first big run. Stills was wide left, Colston was wide right and Watson motioned from the left side of the line to the right.
This time, however, Ingram doesn’t need to bounce the play to the backside. The blocking up front is phenomenal.
It starts with right tackle Zach Strief handling end George Selvie, right guard Jahri Evans chip blocking Cowboys defensive tackle Drake Nevis before engaging with linebacker Bruce Carter on the second level, Collins taking out safety Barry Church and Watson holding off Scandrick.
The hole was enormous. Ingram wasn’t touched for 25 yards as the entire Cowboys defense was reaching out, lunging to find a way to stop him.
Heath, the Dallas safety, finally shoved Ingram out of bounds at the Cowboys’ 34. And again Ingram showed fire, getting up, bouncing up and down while waving his arms and knocking the sideline sound guy’s equipment away.
The 34-yard run was the Saints’ longest this season, besting Khiry Robinson’s 21-yard scamper against Arizona earlier in the year. It was indicative of just how good this offense can be when everything is working cohesively.
Saints ball, First-and-Goal @ the Dallas 4, 2:17 to go Third Quarter:
The Saints lined up with double tight ends, fullback Collins and Robert Meachem lined up wide right. Ingram was eight yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Once again, the flow of the play is to the right, heading towards the gap around Evans and Strief. There may be a reason for this; Pro Football Focus has Strief as the fourth-highest graded tackle in the NFL and Evans had his best grade of the season.
Strief seals the Cowboys’ Everette Brown inside after the end took an inside rush. Center Brian de la Puente and Evans sealed off defensive tackle Caesar Rayford initially before Evans disengages and takes out both Carter and Sims, Dallas linebackers.
And the play is made when Collins seals linebacker Kyle Bosworth to the outside, opening up a clear lane for Ingram to cut through.
He found his way into the end zone, fell to his knees, raised his arms skyward. It was a great payoff for a big night.
“That was probably the most emotion I'd ever seen that guy put out there on the field in front of everybody,” Thomas said. “It was a Sunday night football game, and everybody had seen that. Whoever was watching the game around the world, ... they've seen the type of emotions he's gone through, and all of the things he was going through.
“I really think it was a release point for him, and he went out there and balled out, and I was real proud of him."
Corey White’s Big Play
Cowboys ball, Third-and-two @ the Dallas 28, 1:04 to go Second Quarter: The Cowboys had just given up a second straight touchdown to New Orleans but was still in the game down 21-10. At the very least, the Cowboys had a chance to get a first down and take time off the clock.
Dallas set up in a five-wide spread with Dez Bryant below the numbers to the right and tight end receiver Cole Beasley inside the numbers to the right. Tight end Jason Witten was tight left. Receiver Terrance Williams was wide left and an unnamed receiver just inside the numbers.
White was in tight coverage on Beasley, who would run a simple slant route, one of the toughest to cover.
The second-year cornerback played the route perfectly, sitting in his stance until Beasley made his move. When quarterback Tony Romo released his pass, White was in textbook position, sitting on the receiver’s front hip, allowing him to make the lunging pass breakup.
The biggest part of the play was that it allowed the Saints to get the ball back with 53 seconds to play, more than enough time with three timeouts to use. And New Orleans did eventually score six plays later on a perfectly timed screen pass to Darren Sproles.