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New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) looks to stiff arm Philadelphia Eagles safety Nate Allen (29) during the third quarter during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Ingram has third big game of season and on biggest stage, time to start believing?

When the New Orleans Saints traded up in the first round to select former Heisman winner Mark Ingram, I’m sure they expected more than a guy who averaged under four yards per carry in both of his first two seasons and was so bad at the beginning of his third year that the team contemplated trading him. But Sean Payton vehemently denied those trade rumors and stuck with Ingram despite his unceremonious benching at the beginning of the season.

They say that the third season of a player’s career is usually their breakout year, and I’m really starting to wonder if Ingram isn’t having a breakout game. People will tell you that he “came out of nowhere” to help lead the Saints to victory over the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday, but that’s not exactly true. For one thing, I sort of called this one coming.

But more importantly, it wasn’t the first game in which Ingram had a big day. For example, look at what he did to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10, which was his second game getting carries after a lengthy benching. The Saints surprisingly gave him 14 carries, and he turned it in to an incredible 145 yards and a touchdown, and he also added two receptions for 15 yards for good measure. Of course, the Cowboys run defense is horrific, and Ingram did most of his work with star linebacker Sean Lee off of the field.

In an effort to prove it was no fluke, Ingram had another big day in Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers, and it definitely isn’t easy to run with efficiency against a Panthers defense that features top-notch run-stuffers like Greg Hardy, Star Lotulelei, Thomas Davis, and Luke Kuechly. But Ingram was the Saints best player on offense that day with 13 carries and 83 yards. In that game, you could clearly see him hitting the hole with explosiveness, running with power and authority, and showing crucial cutting ability and vision.

Granted, he had a couple of subpar performance in between the Cowboys and Panthers games when given significant carries against the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks, but I’m wonder if last night’s third monster performance of the season is the sign of things to come. He was the main reason why the Saints won 26-24 over the Eagles, because he was the most productive player on offense. With Pierre Thomas out, Ingram stepped up big time with 97 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. It’s probably too early to shed the “bust” label from Ingram, but he’s well on his way to proving himself worthy of plaudits; he certainly deserves praise for his Wild Card game.

Tags: Mark Ingram New Orleans Saints Notes And Analysis

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