Saints' Ingram eager for encore

by Walter Pierce

Ingram rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown on only 14 carries last Sunday night in a 49-17 victory over Dallas, smashing his previous career high of 91 yards set in his rookie season of 2011.

Saints running back Mark Ingram celebrates a touchdown versus the Dallas Cowboys.

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Mark Ingram insists he has never paid attention to his critics and isn't using their comments for motivation now.

As far as he's concerned, it is pure coincidence that his best game by far as a pro came a week after former Saints player Chris Ivory made New Orleans look bad for trading him to the New York Jets, causing many in the Big Easy to question whether the wrong running back was sent packing.

"Fans don't bother me. What people say doesn't bother me. Any outside outlet doesn't bother me, doesn't faze me at all. I really don't care," Ingram said after Wednesday's practice. "I know what type of player I am. I know how hard I work to be the best I can be and every teammate of mine knows.

"As long as this locker room knows what I'm doing and how hard I'm working, and this organization knows, that's all that matters to me."

Ingram rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown on only 14 carries last Sunday night in a 49-17 victory over Dallas, smashing his previous career high of 91 yards set in his rookie season of 2011.

For the former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft choice out of Alabama, the big night seemed overdue. Yet the extent to which it shed light on Ingram's ability to emerge as an elite NFL running back remains a matter of debate.

All but 15 of his yards came in the second half of a blowout against an injury-riddled defense that ranks at the bottom of the NFL.

This Sunday, the Saints host San Francisco, which has one of the league's most respected defenses, currently ranked sixth.

Ingram said he has only so much control over when coach Sean Payton calls runs for him, and could only try to make the most of his chances.

"I knew we would be trying to run the ball and take some of that time off the clock," Ingram recalled. "I just wanted to take complete advantage of the opportunity that was presented to me, and I just want to continue to do that, continue to get better."

Saints right guard Jahri Evans pointed out that although Dallas' defense was hurting, Ingram "just ran well."

"He found some holes, and when he hit them, he hit them fast and he hit them hard," Evans said. "He ran tough."

Ingram led the Saints in rushing in 2012, but on an offense that ranked 25th in that category. He gained 602 yards and scored five TDs.

In his rookie season, he played in 10 games, rushing for 474 yards and five TDs, including a career-long 35-yard run for a score. His 91 yards in a lopsided victory over Indianapolis was his career-high until last weekend. However, his season was cut short by a toe injury that required surgery.

Ingram entered his third training camp saying he was in the best shape of his career, and optimistic it would show on the field. But when the regular season arrived, Ingram had trouble crossing the line of scrimmage.

He rushed nine times for 11 yards in the season opener, then carried eight times for 20 yards in Week 2, after which he was sidelined five games with a toe injury.

He returned against the Jets, rushing four times for 19 yards. He finally broke loose for big gains against Dallas, including a 34-yarder.

"I was very happy for him. This season has been kind of frustrating for him. He hasn't been getting the looks he wanted in the beginning, then he had the foot problem," Saints running back Pierre Thomas said. "I told him that when he gets back, he's got to remind everybody why he's in this league."

In the second quarter, Ingram gained 13 yards, but managed to incite more grumbling in the Superdome by springing to his feet and spinning the ball hard off the turf, drawing a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty.

Ingram acknowledged that he showed more emotion than usual, but said it stemmed from his frustration with missed opportunities earlier in the game, including a dropped pass.

The Saints weren't thrilled with the flag, but liked Ingram's vigorous body language during and after his runs.

"When you see that in a player, you know he's ready to do something special. ... He's ready to turn it up, get after this game, run hard, run like an animal," Thomas said. "I believe it was all the frustration that he was going through. ... He needed to get it out of his system and I think everybody else kind of recognized that."

NOTES: Payton said the Saints worked out several kickers Tuesday, but only to get updated evaluations on them should a need for a kicker arise - not because they were looking to replace Garrett Hartley. Payton said he remains confident in Hartley, who has missed four of his last six field goal attempts. "I know there is speculation on the kicking position," Payton said, but stressed that Hartley has come through "in so many big spots" since the Saints' Super Bowl season of 2009. "I've got a ton of confidence in his ability and I'm glad we did back in 2009 and I think the same applies this year." ... LB Curtis Lofton (hamstring, ankle), S Kenny Vaccaro (concussion), TE Benjamin Watson (concussion) and Akiem Hicks (back) missed practice, while S Malcolm Jenkins, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury, practiced fully.