For one game, New Orleans Saints third-string running back Mark Ingram looked like a first-round pick and former Heisman winner from Alabama instead of a bust that the Saints traded up for. Ingram took advantage of a key injury to Sean Lee and a less-than-100% (in the running game, at least) DeMarcus Ware to run rampant over the Dallas Cowboys porous defense. The Saints allowed Ingram to work some magic in the second half of the game, and he was simply magical with 145 rushing yards on 14 carries.
Ingram quite literally had the game of his life, even if the game was well in-hand around the time when Ingram went off. He scored a rushing touchdown for the first time this season (he had five TDs on the ground in each of his first two seasons), and, more importantly, he averaged an outstanding 10.4 yards per carry on the ground. It was crazy watching a healthy, inspired, explosive, and even authoritative Mark Ingram bully the Cowboys defense into submission. Pierre Thomas still led the way with 17 carries and had himself another good game, but it was Ingram who led the stat sheet.
Despite the gaudy numbers, most people wisely remain skeptical when it comes to Ingram, who basically racked up his yardage in garbage time against an injured, woeful defense on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Ingram’s career resume speaks for itself, as he was awful this season and rumored to be on the trade block at one point. Before 2012, Ingram averaged just 3.9 yards per carry in each of his first two seasons and looked like a truly awful running back.
Both Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles are among the best all-purpose backs in the league and have been much better than Ingram over the past couple of years, so there’s no reason to trust Ingram. Still, he played so well and had so much ability in college (I mean, he was a first-round pick) that he’s worth keeping a close eye on as a late-bloomer. Stranger things have happened than a running back breaking out in the middle of his third season in the NFL.
Just don’t expect Ingram to suddenly overtake Thomas and Sproles on the depth chart, and I completely agree with ESPN NFL Nation’s Mike Triplett’s thoughts on the situation. In a piece today on ESPN, Triplett states that he still expects Ingram to be the third option for the Saints in the backfield, but he also expects Ingram to be in a committee, which implies that Ingram will continue to get some carries in. That sounds like a good policy for the Saints, and there’s nothing that I like more than watching a player prove me wrong and suddenly get his career back on track. Here’s to a feel-good story that may just end up being wishful thinking.