NEW ORLEANS — After rushing for 56 yards and a 2.8 average in last week’s stunning loss to St. Louis, the New Orleans Saints knew they needed to send a message to Tampa Bay on Sunday.
And it was a simple one: they were going to run the ball.
It came across loud and clear, certainly when the Saints rushed for 195 yards and a 7.0 average in a satisfying 27-16 victory over the Bucs before 73,043 fans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints ran on their first three plays from scrimmage, netting 14 yards and a first down, and were on their way.
“That was the plan,” second-year running back Chris Ivory said. “We wanted to establish a running game today, and in order to do that, we had to go out there and show them that we could run it.”
With Ivory, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles taking turns running it, the Saints had 47 yards by the end of the first period — 9 yards less than they had in the entire St. Louis game — and 103 yards at halftime, which produced a 17-3 lead.
“That was a huge emphasis for us this week,” Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks said. “I don’t know if everybody does it, but we script the first 15 (plays), and I think eight or nine of them were runs, which can change depending on how the game goes.
“The thing was we wanted to set a tone that we’re going to run, and run successfully, so it was a huge part of our game plan.”
The Saints really cranked it up on their second possession when Sproles, who rushed for 42 yards on four carries, ripped off a 35-yard gain that led to a 3-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Lance Moore.
The next time they got the ball, Thomas had a 33-yard run that set up a 21-yard scoring pass to Sproles, who caught five passes for 57 yards and kept the Bucs’ defense on their heels most of the afternoon.
Thomas, who helped fill in for an injured Mark Ingram, had 66 yards on eight carries with a 9-yard score in the third that gave the Saints a 24-6 cushion.
“It (the ground game) was pretty good,” Ivory said after leading the way with 67 yards and a long of 12 yards on 15 attempts. “The ground attack opened things up for some passes.”
Ivory was excited about the opportunities for himself as well as his teammates in only his second game back from the physically-unable-to-perform list.
“Everybody brings something different to the table,” he said. “Everybody has a different role that we play as far as down and distance goes. We just try to keep everybody fresh. Coach (Payton) divvies up the carries, and we go out there and do what we can do.”
The key now is to be consistent with it, Thomas said.
“We definitely want to establish that every game, so we go and see how it falls out,” he said. “We see if it goes our way, and today it did. We were balanced and did a good job running; that opened up the passing game.”
The Saints finished with 258 passing yards as Brees completed 27 of 36 attempts with two TDs and one interception.
“We got back to the drawing board,” left tackle Jermon Bushrod said when asked about the difference in their play from the previous week. “We were a little off last week and had a little bump in the road. But we can’t be satisfied with just one ‘W,’ we have to be ready to get back in classroom and continue to grind and prepare — and take it week to week.”