METAIRIE, La. -- Five days ago, New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram had just one 100-yard rushing game in his NFL career.
Now he has three.
Ingram ran the ball 30 times for 100 yards in Thursday night's 28-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers -- the most carries ever by a running back in Sean Payton's nine years as New Orleans' coach. That's new territory for Ingram, as well.
Asked how he felt on the field after carrying the ball a combined 54 times for 272 yards in five nights, Ingram told CBS that he felt great and wanted to keep running it more.
Now the question looms: Will the Saints keep riding Ingram once fellow backs Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas return from injuries?
Chances are, the Saints will return to some form of timeshare -- mainly because those two guys are so talented and were also thriving in their part-time roles before they got hurt.
That's the main reason they've always had a timeshare under Payton in New Orleans -- because the Saints have always been loaded with a wealth of talented backs, from Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush to Thomas, Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles, Ingram and Robinson.
Payton was a little dismissive last week -- maybe even defensive -- when asked about the notion that it would be better to feed one back like Ingram so he could get into a rhythm instead of using a rotation. But when asked again Friday if Ingram has earned the opportunity to play a greater role at the head of the timeshare, Payton seemed open-minded.
"Listen, he certainly is [earning the opportunity]. Yet the key is just the durability. But he's been outstanding," Payton said. "I think that Sunday and then what he did last night, those are a lot of touches. And so we're gonna have to, as we get guys healthy, break those up. And yet to his credit, he's handled that workload. And I think our guys up front, I think it's all kind of come together to some degree.
"Now, it wasn't as clean as you'd hope last night. And yet there were some tough yards and still effective."
OFFENSE (76 snaps)
Quarterback -- Drew Brees 76
Running back -- Mark Ingram 50, Travaris Cadet 22, Edwin Baker 3
Fullback -- Erik Lorig 22
Receiver -- Marques Colston 49, Brandin Cooks 46, Robert Meachem 37, Kenny Stills 26
Tight end -- Jimmy Graham 52, Benjamin Watson 43, Josh Hill 28
Offensive tackle -- Terron Armstead 76, Zach Strief 52, Bryce Harris 24
Guard -- Jahri Evans 76, Ben Grubbs 76
Center -- Tim Lelito 76
Safety (on kneel-downs) -- Kenny Vaccaro 2
Thoughts: Graham’s snaps increased yet again despite the short week, from 30 to 42 to 52 over the past three games as he recovers from his shoulder injury. He noticeably winced in pain a couple times, but never had to leave the game. He should be a lot closer to 100 percent after the nine-day layoff. ... Ingram will also be looking forward to some well-deserved rest after a whopping 104 snaps over the past five days. ... Meachem re-appeared in the passing game with one big catch and one big play where he drew a pass interference penalty. And he played a ton of snaps, in part because of Stills' groin injury, which temporarily sideline him. Though Meachem has been quiet as an offensive weapon, he remains highly valued as a run blocker. ... Strief left the game, but said he will be OK after taking a knee to the back and getting brusied up.
DEFENSE (57 snaps)
Cornerback -- Keenan Lewis 57, Corey White 56, Patrick Robinson 25
Safety -- Kenny Vaccaro 57, Rafael Bush 54, Marcus Ball 6, Vinnie Sunseri 3
Outside linebacker -- Junior Galette 46, Parys Haralson 30, Kasim Edebali 11
Inside linebacker -- Curtis Lofton 57, Ramon Humber 54, Todd Davis 1
Defensive end -- Cameron Jordan 53, Akiem Hicks 37, Brandon Deaderick 23, Tyrunn Walker 13
Defensive tackle -- Brodrick Bunkley 27, John Jenkins 17
Thoughts: The Saints' defense earned a low snap count by repeatedly getting off the field in a great performance. The unit will be well-rested coming out of the mini-bye. ... For the second straight week, it stands out that White and Robinson played a ton of snaps without getting noticed much during the game (which is a good thing for cornerbacks).
Graham winced in pain a couple times when he took a hit on his sore shoulder, but he stayed in the game the whole time and finished with seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. He played 52 snaps -- an increase from last week, and had a spectacular hurdle over former teammate Roman Harper. And he shared an emphatic "bro hug" with coach Sean Payton after the touchdown, that was captured by the team website.
Spreading the wealth: The Saints’ 4-4 start to the first half of this season was a group effort, to say the least. Through eight games, I’ve never handed out a game ball to the same player twice, with a total of 10 players earning the honor.
Week 1 at Atlanta -- Brandin Cooks
Week 2 at Cleveland -- Jimmy Graham
Week 3 vs Minnesota -- Curtis Lofton
Week 4 at Dallas -- Drew Brees
Week 5 vs Tampa Bay -- Khiry Robinson, Pierre Thomas
Week 7 at Detroit -- Marques Colston, Kenny Stills
Week 8 vs Green Bay -- Mark Ingram
Week 9 at Carolina -- Keenan Lewis
Also worth noting:
- The Saints had just two wins through the first 49 days of the 2014 season. They have added two more over the past five days.
- The Saints have now scored touchdowns in 37 straight regular-season games, the third longest streak in NFL history. The streak dates to the last game of the 2005 season, meaning they have scored a touchdown in every game of the Sean Payton era.
- Ingram's 30 carries on Thursday were the most by any one back in the Payton era.
- Payton stood outside the Saints' locker room, greeting and congratulating each player as they came off the field Thursday night, per WWL TV’s Juan Kincaid.
- According to ESPN Stats and Info, all four of the Saints’ sacks came via a four-man pass rush. They sacked the Panthers on 20 percent of their dropbacks with four pass-rushers or fewer -- after having a rate of just 4.2 percent through the first seven games.
- Click here for some more postgame takeaways from ESPN Stats and Info.
- The NFL Network is featuring former Saints running back Ricky Williams tonight on its latest edition of "A Football Life."
An interception on the opening drive that bounced off the hands of receiver Kenny Stills and into the waiting arms of a defensive tackle. A fumble by quarterback Drew Brees on the second drive after fullback Erik Lorig got shoved into him.
But if you think the Saints turned things around in their 28-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers by getting conservative or playing it safe, then you haven’t been paying much attention to Brees and coach Sean Payton over the past nine years.
“You play to win the game!” Brees said, channeling Herm Edwards’ classic rant. “Listen, if you’re worried about bad things happening all the time and you play conservative and you play not to (lose), that’s when things don’t go your way.”
So the Saints kept their foot on the gas even when they were facing a third-and-10 from their own 15-yard line with 1:40 remaining and no timeouts left in the first half. And it paid off with a 1-yard TD pass to tight end Jimmy Graham with three seconds remaining.
Later, Brees scored on a 1-yard TD dive on fourth-and-goal when he had the option to snap it or call a timeout based on what he saw from the defense. (Was there any doubt?)
“You’re trying to be smart and not foolish,” Payton said of the two-minute drill, which included another sack-fumble against Brees (that he recovered). “You’re very comfortable saying, ‘Hey, if we have to we’ll punt it here or run out the clock. But, listen, Drew was outstanding on that drive.”
The TD pass was set up by a huge 32-yard pass interference penalty when Brees took a deep shot for Robert Meachem in the end zone.
“You cannot play quarterback in this league being afraid of what might happen. You’ve got to trust that the guy’s either going to make a play on it or he’s going to play defense,” Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said of the throw to Meachem. “And he did. But we’re never going to become conservative. Ever.”
Brees' aggressive nature admittedly led to some forced interceptions earlier this season. But he's always been willing to push the envelope, and the good has outweighed the bad throughout his career.
“We’ve rehearsed that two-minute drill, we’ve done it so many times,” Brees said. “How many times have you seen us go down and score inside of 30 seconds? Are there going to be mistakes at times, are you going to get stopped or worst case, turn it over? And you try not to let that happen, but it’s football. And sometimes it does, and you’ve got to overcome it.”
The Saints also opened up their game plan in general as the game went on.
They clearly went into the game with an intention to run the ball a lot against a Carolina defense that ranked last in the NFL in yards allowed per carry. But the run game wasn’t getting off the ground. So even though they had the early interception and fumbles, they continued to aggressively air it out.
Brees finished 24-of-34 for 297 yards, one touchdown, one pick and four sacks.
They went back to the run game late once they opened a lead, and Mark Ingram finished with 100 yards on 30 carries -- the most by any Saints back in the Payton-Brees era.
The Saints will never stop being aggressive. But if they can do it while being balanced, all the better.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The New Orleans Saints finally won a road game Thursday night, wrestling control of the NFC South away from the Carolina Panthers with an emphatic 28-10 victory.
And they did it by literally wrestling the ball away from quarterback Cam Newton with a game-changing sack-fumble in the shadow of his own end zone with the game still scoreless late in the second quarter.
Who would've thought? A defense stepped up to turn the tide of a division that had become the NFL's laughingstock because of poor defensive play during the first half of the season.
No one in the NFC will be laughing if this is a sign of things to come from the Saints (4-4). New Orleans is the last place wild-card teams are going to want to visit come January.
"We definitely didn't stop believing," Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis said after the defense went through many struggles during a 2-4 start. "We always had our confidence. But in football, sometimes you fall short. The [three] games we lost on the road was [by] a total of six points, which was devastating to us. But we kept our focus, we got great leaders in Drew [Brees] and Curtis Lofton and those guys, Junior Galette. They just told us don't get down on ourselves and we'll turn it around, and we did."
Lewis has quietly had another standout season, while the rest of the secondary has undergone growing pains. He spent much of Thursday's game matched up with rookie standout Kelvin Benjamin and helped hold him to two catches for 18 yards on 10 targets.
"You watch Keenan Lewis. I just finished telling him he was outstanding," Saints coach Sean Payton said. He also said the entire defense was outstanding.
Lewis was hardly alone on a night when Newton was about as off-target as he's ever been, completing just 10 of 28 passes for 151 yards.
Cornerback Corey White intercepted a tipped pass in the first half, and Newton was sacked four times.
Most important of all, New Orleans held Carolina scoreless in the first half despite two turnovers by the Saints' offense. It was a rare moment in which the Saints needed their defense to bail them out. And it delivered in a huge way.
"It feels great," said Galette, who sacked Newton to force that fumble late in the second quarter and finished with two sacks. "A wonderful feeling from what we've been through the past few weeks, knowing we lost a lot of close games."
Galette passed the credit for the forced fumble to defensive end Cameron Jordan.
"He pushed his tackle into the quarterback and before the play said he was gonna power and I'm gonna get high. And it worked out exactly how we planned it out to be," Galette said. "We knew that was probably the advantage we had was against their [injury-depleted] offensive line. We knew they had a few guys that were out. And Sean made the emphasis that we had to take advantage up front. And we did that tonight. We came together."
Of course, it must be noted that the Saints' defense remains a work in progress. And this Carolina offense was pretty punchless.
But the Saints' defense showed signs of this turnaround against an explosive Green Bay offense last week, and against Detroit and Tampa Bay in the games before that. New Orleans now has 12 sacks over the past 13 quarters.
"We didn't listen to the white noise," Galette said of the early-season criticism. "And here we are, first place in the division, and we can't get complacent. We still won't listen to the white noise and the good things people will say about us. Because we know how bad it feels when you're down.
"So we're just gonna keep our foot on the gas and not look back."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton had been biting his tongue all week about the extra-short turnaround from a Sunday night game to a Thursday night road game. But Payton couldn't resist bringing it up during his opening comments after New Orleans' 28-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers, calling it crazy, silly and foolish.
"You know, Thursday night games are one thing, but to play on a Sunday night game and then come back and play on a Thursday ... you can't really [complain publicly] because first off, it's not an excuse for your players, you don't want it to be. But I would say it's crazy. It's silly, all right? It shouldn't happen," Payton said.
Later, he added: "It's foolish. You got three guys that are hurt in there right now. To play a Sunday night and travel is foolish."
According to Elias Sports Bureau, only four times in the last 20 years had an NFL team been forced to play a Thursday road game following a Sunday night contest. Only one team, Miami in 2003, had won both.
Payton said he didn't bring it up with the league when the schedule first came out because he didn't fully appreciate it until "you go actually through logistics and see what your players go through."
And he said it wasn't a big campaign for him, saying, "That's just my little frustration with something as simple as scheduling that can be easily fixed."
Payton did bring up the scheduling challenge with players during the week -- but they said his message was to make sure they didn't allow themselves to use it as an excuse heading into the game.
"You Play To Win The Game!" Brees said with emphasis (once he cleared up the confusion between the famous rants of Edwards and Dennis Green). "Listen, if you're worried about bad things happening all the time and you play conservative and you play not to win, that's when things don't go your way."
The Saints' decisions to push for a two-minute drill touchdown with no timeouts before halftime and to score on a fourth-and-1 dive by Brees both paid off big time.
Graham's emotional head-butt: The cameras caught Saints tight end Jimmy Graham head-butting the bench on the sideline. He said afterward that he had to get out the frustration after the way the team started slow and everyone had written them off. He said this was an emotional win for him.
Injury updates: The Saints didn't release many specific injury updates after the game, but coach Sean Payton referenced three players being hurt. One was offensive tackle Zach Strief, who said he'll be OK after taking a knee to the back and being "bruised up." Receiver Kenny Stills also left the game temporarily with a groin injury. CBS reported during the broadcast that Mark Ingram was fighting a shoulder injury, but he toughed it out with a career-high 30 carries. And Graham noticeably winced a few times because of his continuing shoulder pain. But he also toughed it out before wrapping it in ice after the game.
The payoff for the Saints' extra-short turnaround between a Sunday night home game and Thursday night road game is that now they have 10 days to heal up for the next one.
The Saints threw it well, ran it well and defended well. They held an opponent scoreless in the first half of a road game for the first time since Week 6 of the 2010 season, against the Buccaneers.
Brees and Graham on target
Drew Brees was 7-for-7 for 83 yards and six first downs when targeting Jimmy Graham. It was the ninth time in Graham’s career that he has caught every pass on which he was targeted, and the second in which he had at least six targets.
Graham now has a touchdown catch in each of his past six games against the Panthers.
Ingram goes for 100, again
Mark Ingram had 30 carries for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He’s rushed for 272 yards in his past two games, the first Saints player with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since Deuce McAllister in 2006.
Ingram had 52 yards after contact, one week after racking up 92 yards after being hit.
The Saints had three rushing touchdowns between the tackles, including both of Ingram’s. They had only four rushing scores between the tackles all season entering the game.
Newton not sharp
Cam Newton’s 10 completions were the fewest in his career, and his 36 percent completion percentage was a career low.
Newton had nine overthrows, his most in a game this season and tied for the second-most in a game in his career.
Newton was 2-for-10 when targeting Kelvin Benjamin, his worst success rate targeting Benjamin all season.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 28-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night in Bank of America Stadium:
What it means: The Saints have taken control of the NFC South.
Sure, they're only 4-4. But they're a sizzling-hot 4-4 after finally winning their first road game and finally stringing together two straight victories. Carolina (3-5-1) had to hold serve on its home field to slow the Saints' momentum, and it failed in a big way.
New Orleans' defense deserves the most credit for this win, thanks to a huge first half while the offense was struggling with turnovers. Quarterback Drew Brees also played great when Carolina's defense was surprisingly stout against New Orleans' run game.
The Saints are peaking at the right time on both sides of the ball. And even though folks may want to consider the bumbling NFC South the laughingstock of the league in the first half of the season, nobody is going to want to have to play at New Orleans in the playoffs if the Saints can keep this up.
Stock watch: Who would've thought the Saints' defense would key this victory? They were fantastic in by far their best performance to date, holding Carolina to 10 points and 231 yards with two huge first-half takeaways.
Cornerback Corey White intercepted a tipped pass. Then outside linebacker Junior Galette sacked Cam Newton and forced a fumble in the shadow of Carolina's own end zone, setting up the Saints' first touchdown. Cornerback Keenan Lewis was also outstanding in coverage against receiver Kelvin Benjamin (more on him below).
Risks pay off: This is why folks should be hesitant to criticize Sean Payton and Brees for their aggressive nature. Two risks paid off: They embarked on an 85-yard touchdown drive with no timeouts in the final two minutes of the first half, and they scored on a fourth-and-1 dive by Brees in the second half.
And in a rare twist, the Saints actually came into the game planning to run the ball. But when they realized it was ineffective, they adjusted and Brees threw for 297 yards.
Game ball: Lewis continued his quietly outstanding season by helping to shut down Benjamin (two catches for 18 yards). The highlight was an end zone pass breakup when Carolina threatened to close within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Saints' secondary has had a rough season. But thanks to Lewis, they aren't being hurt by opponents' No. 1 receiving threats (see: Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson among others).
Up next: Not only are the Saints heating up, but they're hitting a favorable stretch in their schedule. They get a 10-day break before playing three straight home games, starting with the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10.
Saints: C Jonathan Goodwin, WR Nick Toon, FB Austin Johnson, LB David Hawthorne , CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, RB Pierre Thomas, RB Khiry Robinson.
Panthers: RB Fozzy Whittaker, OG Trai Turner, LT Byron Bell, OG Amini Silatolu, CB Bené Benwikere, WR Philly Brown, FS Thomas DeCoud.
The biggest news for the Panthers is DeCoud (hamstring) won’t play. That means rookie Tre Boston will get his first start at free safety against the NFL’s second-ranked pass offense.
Left tackle Byron Bell was ruled out on Wednesday, giving undrafted rookie David Foucault his first start.
For the Saints, Robinson was ruled out with his forearm injury after being listed as questionable. Thomas previously was ruled out with shoulder and rib injuries.
Also Thursday, the Saints promoted rookie linebacker/special teamer Todd Davis from the practice squad and released tight end Tom Crabtree.
The Saints are the hotter team. They just played their best game of the season four nights ago in a 44-23 rout of the Green Bay Packers, and Carolina has lost two straight. But the Saints are 0-4 on the road this season and 2-10 over their past 12 road games, including the playoffs.
That stretch includes a gut-wrenching last-minute 17-13 loss at Carolina in Week 16 of last season, which ultimately decided the NFC South title.
Here’s What 2 Watch 4 in the rematch:
Benjamin immediately emerged as Carolina's most dynamic weapon and might have had his best catch to date last week against Seattle. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder has 38 catches for 571 yards and five touchdowns. Coach Sean Payton said the thing that stands out most is Benjamin’s "catch radius."
Cornerback Keenan Lewis said, "He’s 6-forever. I call him 6-forever. He looks like he keeps growing by the week. He can go up and get the high ball, an extremely gifted athlete who runs good routes."
Cooks’ production has been a little more sporadic since he is playing in a deeper offense. But he just had his biggest performance yet against Green Bay, with six catches for 94 yards and a touchdown and a 4-yard touchdown run. The blazing-fast, 5-10, 189-pounder has added a dimension to the offense, whether he’s running deep routes, screen passes or end-around runs. He has 40 catches for 372 yards and two TDs, plus six carries for 68 yards and a score.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is known as a tough sack because of his combination of size and athleticism. But he’s not impossible to bring down, as the Saints proved by sacking him a total of nine times in the two meetings last season.
There is no reason for them to stop feeding Ingram against a Carolina defense that ranks last in the NFL by a wide margin this season, allowing 5.2 yards per rush. But that doesn’t mean the Saints will take the ball out of Brees’ hands.
Brees is still by far the Saints’ biggest asset. After completing 27 of 32 passes against Green Bay, he is once again leading the NFL in completion percentage at 69.5 percent. He just needs to cut down on the costly interceptions that have crept up too often on the road dating to last season. Since the start of last season, Brees has thrown 34 TD passes and 6 interceptions at home, with a 21-15 split on the road.
New Orleans Saints
Pierre Thomas, rib/shoulder, (out) and Khiry Robinson, forearm, (Q), RBs: At least the Saints have made it easy to know what Thomas will, er, won’t be doing Thursday night. However, Robinson is another matter. The Saints have him listed as questionable to play despite the fact that he did not participate in a single practice this week and missed this past Sunday’s game. He is listed on the injury report with a forearm injury, but the team has offered no additional details. Last week, Robinson was seen wearing a soft, removable splint and downplayed the injury, yet he wasn’t available for the game and hasn’t done anything practicewise since then to suggest he has progressed. Given his lack of participation in practice since the injury, he appears unlikely to play. Still, the team has him listed in a way that suggests he has a 50-50 chance of suiting up; how much he would contribute even if he does dress also is unclear.
Given the performance in Week 8 by a healthy Mark Ingram, fully recovered from surgery to repair a fracture in his hand, the expectation is that he will again bear the brunt of the run workload in this game, with an assist from Travaris Cadet.
Jimmy Graham, TE, shoulder, (Q): After playing through injury the past two games, there isn’t much doubt that Graham will suit up for the Thursday night game. Last week saw an increased number of snaps for Graham -- and more production for fantasy owners -- as he managed to find the end zone among his five receptions, a big improvement over the zero receptions the prior week. Unfortunately, the short week doesn’t help Graham in the recovery process, which is that much more important when still healing from an injury. Graham is far from 100 percent, telling ESPN.com’s Mike Triplett: “I’ve been better. But nobody really cares about that. We’ll just keep going and do what I can to be as healthy as I can on Thursday.”
Graham went from being on the field for 30 snaps and no catches (on just two targets) in Week 7 to 42 snaps in Week 8 with the handful of catches and that touchdown. More importantly, Saints coach Sean Payton indicated they were beyond reserving Graham for just limited packages. Although no one from the Saints has offered a definitive diagnosis on Graham’s shoulder, his own statement that he would “pretty much live in the treatment room” between Sunday and Thursday says plenty. He is playing in pain, and managing any associated inflammation and discomfort between games, but he is doing so while being increasingly productive on the field. Ultimately, that result makes the Saints and fantasy owners happy.
DeAngelo Williams, ankle, (P) and Fozzy Whittaker, thigh, (out), RBs: The big news here is the return of Williams to the Panthers’ backfield. He missed the past four games with an ankle sprain after missing two games earlier in the season with a hamstring injury. Now healthy, Williams comes into the Thursday night game with fresher legs than most and is expected to start. Teammate Jonathan Stewart, who had his best performance in recent memory this past Sunday, can expect to see his share of the workload dip. Stewart also missed time this season to injury (he was sidelined three weeks with a sprained knee), but he stepped up last week with the other backs ailing and touched the ball more than he had in the past two years.
With Williams back in the mix, those touches will decrease for Stewart, but he could still manage to get the occasional red zone look. As far as the remaining backs go, Whittaker has already been ruled out, Chris Ogbonnaya has been dealing with a sore groin recently (although he is not listed on the injury report this week) and had only one carry in Sunday’s game, and Darrin Reaves, who saw some injury fill-in work, was waived by the Panthers on Tuesday.