Mark Ingram’s streak of rushing heroics is over after three games.
A week after becoming the first New Orleans Saints running back since 2003 with three consecutive 100-yard outings, Ingram on Sunday took a step backwards — literally — against Cincinnati’s 31st-ranked run defense, which outperformed its former performances to push and shove him around in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Ingram finished with 67 yards on 23 carries, averaging 2.9 yards a rush. His numbers showed how the Saints’ game plan — to run, run, run against the lowly Bengals rush defense — was ineffective, causing the rest of the offense to look unprepared.
The low point of his effort came early in the second quarter. Ingram gained 2 yards on second-and-goal from the Bengals 3-yard line and, on third-and-goal, he was stopped for no gain.
On fourth down, the Saints opted for a pass to fullback Erik Lorig, but the Bengals dropped him for a 1-yard loss.
Cincinnati took the ball back — and grabbed the momentum.
“Any time you’re that close and you can’t punch it in, it is definitely a loss of momentum,” Ingram said. “We had chances to bounce back from it, and we just couldn’t capitalize.”
“In our heads, we were just saying, ‘They’re not going to score. We cannot let them score,’ ” Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey told Bengals.com.
Ingram, whose longest run in the first half covered 5 yards, said the Bengals run defense appeared to field a strategy slightly different from what the Saints were prepared for. Right tackle Terron Armstead described it as a lot more movement along the defensive front, including the linebackers.
Still, Ingram added, the Saints should have adjusted.
“They came out ready to play today, and we didn’t match their intensity,” Saints left guard Ben Grubbs said.
Ingram has spent the past four weeks as the Saints’ best — and perhaps only — rushing option, with Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson out with injuries.
Until Sunday, Ingram made good use of the extra carries. He had averaged 4.8 yards per carry during the previous three games against visiting Green Bay, at Carolina and back home against San Francisco, finishing with 392 yards.
With the Saints trailing 20-3 midway through the third quarter, Ingram’s impact on Sunday’s game ended.
“We just have to continue to improve, to do better and not hurt ourselves,” he said. “We have to be ready to play. We have to do better at playing complementary football (with the passing game) and giving ourselves a chance to win.”