CLEVELAND — Ever since television cameras caught Saints running back Mark Ingram throwing what appeared to be a temper tantrum on the sideline during a 37-34 Saints defeat in Atlanta on Sept. 7, the public has been trying to figure out what may have gotten the New Orleans running back so heated.
When asked Sunday if it was about how much his team has been playing him, Ingram — who had just recorded 11 carries for 83 yards and scored his third rushing touchdown of the season in another loss Sunday for the Saints (0-2), this one 26-24 while visiting the Browns (1-1) — replied, “(I’m) just a competitor. I want to win. ... I just want to win games.”
To a question about how things were between him and Saints coach Sean Payton, who prefers to split touches up among New Orleans’ various running backs, Ingram said, “We’re great. Me and coach are great.”
Reporters spoke with Ingram about such topics Sunday because he had not talked with the media since he was seen throwing his helmet and watching portions of New Orleans’ season-opening setback to the Falcons nearly 20 feet away from his teammates.
Ingram had only run the ball six times for 18 yards through the first three quarters of Week 1 in Atlanta. After he had a solid preseason in which he averaged a solid 7.1 yards per carry and scored one rushing and receiving touchdown each, many on the outside expected Ingram would have a larger role than that, and televised images of Ingram looking like he was disgruntled led some to speculate he was upset at not getting the ball more.
The Saints handed the ball to Ingram seven times in the fourth quarter, and he rewarded them with 42 yards and a pair of 3-yard touchdown scampers before an overtime field goal by the Falcons sunk New Orleans.
“(It was an) up-and-down game,” Ingram said Sunday. “(I) want to win — want to win games and be a great competitor.”
Against Cleveland, Ingram had two fewer carries than he did in Atlanta, yet he had 23 more yards on the ground. And he added three catches for 21 more yards to bring his total yards from scrimmage up to an impressive 104 — or 26 percent of the Saints’ total net yards Sunday.
Among his best runs was a 26-yarder on a drive that set up a 27-yard field goal by kicker Shayne Graham to reduce what had been a 10-0 deficit by three points in the second quarter. Then, on a 13-yard reception in the third quarter, he evaded two tacklers in a manner that was reminiscent of what a character in a video game might do.
Ingram picked up 17 more yards on a pair of rushes that drive, which culminated in the second of All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham’s two touchdown catches Sunday and helped give New Orleans a 17-16 advantage.
Ingram’s 1-yard touchdown then resulted in a 24-23 Saints lead with 12:15 to go in the game, but New Orleans failed to leave Cleveland with a victory.
The Saints were asked about not giving the ball more to Ingram, who nonetheless had three more carries than anyone else for New Orleans. Quarterback Drew Brees said the Saints like to rotate in running backs Khiry Robinson (eight carries for 31 yards), Pierre Thomas (three carries for 16 yards) and Travaris Cadet to keep the players at the position group fresh.
“We have a great rotation,” Brees said. “They’ve all done an exception job so far.”
That’s especially true of Ingram, who through two games is on pace to set a regular-season career high of 1,144 yards. The Saints’ 2011 first-round draft selection has never rushed for more than 602 yards in a regular season.
The contract Ingram accepted as a rookie is set to expire in March. The Saints declined to exercise an option for a fifth year on that deal, which would’ve paid Ingram $5.2 million in base salary.