Mark Ingram rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown and rookie Brandin Cooks reached the end zone in his NFL debut as the Saints defeated St. Louis 26-24 at the Edward Jones Dome on Friday night to open the 2014 preseason.
Ingram scored on a 22-yard run late in the second quarter. Khiry Robinson had 23 carries on five carries, while catching two passes for 16 yards.
Quarterback Drew Brees (oblique) missed Friday's game, in a contest featuring Saints coach Sean Payton and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a central figure in the NFL's case against the franchise in the Bountygate scandal. Williams is in his first season in the same role in St. Louis.
Cooks, the 20th-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, scored on a 25-yard pass in the third quarter.
The game also served as the pro debut for St. Louis defensive end Michael Sam, the first openly-gay player in the league.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. CONTRACT YEAR: Mark Ingram rushed eight times for 83 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown in the second quarter, an example of his new-and-improved skills and health. Ingram helped the Saints rush for 99 yards in the first half. In 2013, the Saints averaged 92.1 yards a game.
Ingram's work occurred behind a patched-up Saints offensive line, with Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs out (Senio Kelemete started in his place), and a competition for starting center between second-year pro Tim Lelito and veteran Jonathan Goodwin.
2. COOKS IS HOT: First-round draft pick Brandin Cooks looked sensational on a 25-yard score in the third quarter. On the play, Cooks caught a short pass at the 18, stopped, pivoted then exploded by two St. Louis defenders, barely bothered en route to the end zone. Playing into the third quarter, Cooks finished with team-high five catches for 55 yards. He also returned two punts (four yards).
3) FOURTH-AND-OO-OH: The Saints' biggest defense gaff occurred midway through the third quarter. St. Louis faked a punt on fourth and 3, with Chase Reynolds, the upback, rushing right for a 38-yard gain. Four plays later, though, rookie Tre Mason was stopped in the backfield by Tyrunn Walker for a loss of 1.
4) BATTLE FOR BACKUP: In the competition for No. 2 quarterback, Ryan Griffin had the better outing. Griffin finished with 190 yards and a score on 17-of-24 passing. Luke McCown (7 of 10, 49 yards) threw an interception on the Saints' first possession.
5) LOST IN TRANSLATION: The Saints defense lost track of St. Louis tight end Cory Harkey early in the first quarter as he looked like he would step back for added pass protection. Harkey then stepped out for a pass and jogged into the end zone on a 16-yard TD.