Mark Ingram said he wasn’t surprised by his career-best, 172-yard rushing output against Green Bay.
After all, it’s what Ingram has always known he’s capable of.
“Numbers and stats, it’s really for everybody else,” said Ingram, who increased his season total to 331 yards — more than halfway past his best rushing effort for a season (602 yards in 2012). Ingram also has four touchdowns this season.
“You can have a great game, be effective for a team without having a major stat line,” he said Tuesday. “My main thing is go out there and be the best that I can be and help us win games.”
Up next is Thursday night’s game at Carolina (3-4-1). After being one of the NFL’s defenses last season, the Panthers rank 21st in the NFL (378.5 yards per game), including 28th against the run (135.2).
Opposing running backs have averaged a league-best 5.2 yards per carry against Carolina. This has occurred despite the presence of middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the 2013 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Kuechly leads the Carolina defense in tackles (89), including 54 solo tackles.
With Saints running backs Pierre Thomas (ribs/shoulder) and Khiry Robinson (forearm) sitting out Tuesday’s practice, Ingram is primed for another double-digit rushing game.
“This is no surprise to me at all,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “You guys (media and fans) have dogged him for three years; you know you did.
“Fact of the matter is, the guy really hasn’t had as much of an opportunity because he’s banged up at times, and plus sharing the load with other guys.”
Missing Mr. Smith
Steve Smith has done well during his first season away from Carolina. His 675 receiving yards with Baltimore rank seventh in the league. Smith also has caught 41 passes, and has four TDs.
And the Panthers have done OK without Smith, their former No. 1 receiver.
Rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin (571 yards) ranks second only to Buffalo’s Sammy Watkins (590 yards) in receiving yards. Benjamin also has caught 38 passes and has five TDs.
At 6-foot-5, Benjamin’s catch radius — where he can high-point the ball, Saints coach Sean Payton said — and his ability to play comfortably in traffic explain why he’s Cam Newton’s new favorite receiver target.
“Just like (us), there’s changes,” Payton said of Carolina’s passing offense. “Certainly, they have some young players, some veterans with Benjamin being a rookie. ... The dynamics change, but there’s still some things you’re still coaching and teaching.”
Payton announced the suspension of receiver Joseph Morgan, while declining to offer further details.
Morgan, a fourth-year pro, has appeared in one game this season (Week 1 at Atlanta), his first action since suffering a season-ending knee injury during the 2013 offseason.
Morgan, 26, has not caught a pass in 2014.
In 2012, he caught 10 passes for 379 yards with three TDs.
Along with Thomas and Robinson, middle linebacker David Hawthorne (hand) and fullback Austin Johnson (knee) did not practice Tuesday. Also, tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder) was limited, as was center Jonathan Goodwin (knee/ankle) and linebacker Kyle Knox (ankle).
For Carolina, tackle Byron Bell (knee), cornerback Bene Benwikere (ankle), linebacker Chase Blackburn (knee), receiver Philly Brown (concussion), safety Thomas DeCoud (hamstring), running back Fozzy Whittaker (thigh) and guards Amini Silatolu (calf) and Trai Tuner (knee) did not practice. Running back DeAngelo Williams (ankle), tackle Nate Chandler (thigh) defensive tackle Kawann Short (ankle) and linebacker Jason Williams (hip) were limited.