NEW ORLEANS Heading into Sunday's 31-13 win over the Rams, Saints head coach Sean Payton had a stable of four healthy running backs for the first time since the opening month of the season.

And that included Pierre Thomas, the Saints' fan-favorite running back who severely injured his left ankle in New Orleans' Sept. 26 game against Atlanta.

Ten weeks later, Thomas returned, his left ankle taped up and looking like he had a snow globe in his sock. It's a good thing, too, as Chris Ivory went down with a hamstring injury after the first quarter.

He finished with 12 carries for 39 yards and four catches for 29 more, a surprising number of touches for someone who has only practiced fully for one week.

'I was surprised to get as many touches as I did, but I knew they were going to test me and see if I was ready,' Thomas said. 'I felt ready. It's been awhile. I'm just getting back into the groove.'

Ten of his 16 touches came in the second half, when he gained 42 of his 68 total yards.

While he didn't have any standout plays no long runs, no screen pass turned into a 20-yard gain, etc. he did help the Saints run the clock out in the game and turned short gains into medium ones. That's all that was asked of him Sunday.

'You're optimistic (he'll respond well) because he has had a full week and the week prior, a pretty solid week,' Payton said. 'I think he felt pretty well. ... He seemed to have handled it pretty well and that was encouraging.'

More than anything, Sunday showed Thomas he's still not 100 percent when it comes to conditioning. He said he had a lot of work to do.

'I felt myself get winded one time running a couple of plays back-to-back,' Thomas said. 'I just knew I wasn't going to quit, give up. I wasn't going to show it, but I felt myself getting a little winded. That's something I'm going to work on throughout this week.'

Thomas' first touch since overtime of that Atlanta game came quickly. Quarterback Drew Brees checked down to Thomas, who turned the short pass into a five-yard gain. The reception culled an ovation from those in the Superdome who have awaited his return.

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