Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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METAIRIE, La. For much of his time in New Orleans, Mark Ingram received more than he has given.

He earned little praise from the fan base, which booed him early in New Orleans' game against Dallas this season.

But he never lost faith and his teammates never gave up on him.

And against Philadelphia, he finally gave more than he received. In the season's biggest game, he ran for 97 yards and a touchdown, pacing the Saints to 185 on the ground in a two-point win.

The Saints (12-5) will need a reprise of that team rushing performance Saturday against No. 1-seed Seattle (13-3) in the NFC divisional playoffs.

It might just be what New Orleans has to do anyway, what with the weather expected to be stormy with high winds.

'I think you pay close attention to that,' coach Sean Payton said. 'How long can you make the quarter last when you are with the wind. How quick can you make a quarter go by when you are against it?'

The problem is Seattle's defense is better than Philadelphia's. The Seahawks have held two of their past three opponents to 25 yards or less on the ground, helping them end the regular season as the league's best total defense (273.6 ypg).

The last time the two teams played, Seattle held New Orleans to 44 yards on the ground and just 188 total on Dec. 2.

The good news for New Orleans, however, is that it's running the ball better. The Saints gained 126 yards in the regular season finale and 98 against the Bucs. In a win over Carolina on Dec. 8, the Saints averaged 4.1 yards per carry in a big win.

Ingram finished the season with a 4.9 yard-per-carry average while rookie Khiry Robinson was at 4.1

'I think even going into the Philly game we felt really confident that those guys are all good running backs,' right tackle Zach Strief said. 'They all kind of bring something different. That's the design of having this running back by committee.'

What's helped is that, over the course of the season, the Saints learned what worked and didn't.

'I think there has been a consistent progress shown in it,' Strief said. 'Sometimes that doesn't show up in a stat sheet but I think we're getting a point now where we're more and more comfortable with what we're trying to do, both from a line standpoint and a back standpoint to where we're looking at pictures on the sideline and we're seeing the same things together with the running backs.'

Robinson agreed.

'Our offensive line, we've got to give them that credit -- they've been doing a hell of job so I feel like that's how we got better,' the running back said.

Still, it could come down to Ingram in the end. Pierre Thomas possibly could miss his second straight game with a chest injury, leaving the runs to both Ingram and Robinson.

Ingram ran hard against the Eagles and New Orleans finished the game with just one negative run play. He had carries of 17, 18 and 10 yards in the game.

Through everything he has been through, he has never given up faith that everything would work itself out.

'I've always been confident in myself. I know what I can do,' Ingram said. 'I'm confident in my abilities. It's just having the opportunity to get those touches and show what I could do and it was great to do it in a playoff game on the road, get that first win in franchise history.

'We've just got to keep building on it.'

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