TAMPA, Fla. — If Marques Colston and Mark Ingram have played their final game with the New Orleans Saints — decisions that may not come for a couple of months — they certainly went out the right way Sunday.
Colston and Ingram scored fourth-quarter touchdowns that helped the Saints overcome a 13-point deficit at the end of three periods in a 23-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Ingram, who could become an unrestricted free agent in March, scored on a 1-yard run on the second play of the final quarter, and Colston turned a short pass over the middle into a 36-yard go-ahead touchdown with 1:57 remaining to lift the Saints to a win in their season finale.
While Ingram said he would love to be back with the Saints, who declined last summer to exercise a fifth-year option for next season on the second of their two first-round draft picks in 2011, Colston, a nine-year veteran, politely declined to speak with reporters after the game.
Colston, the franchise’s all-time leader in catches (666), receiving yards (9,239) and receiving touchdowns (68), could be a candidate to be released because of his $9.75 million salary-cap figure for 2015.
At least three of Colston’s teammates talked about how emotional he got when addressing the team after being awarded the game ball when the Saints got to the locker room.
“It meant a lot to him,” said fellow receiver Robert Meachem, a teammate of Colston’s for seven seasons. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him shed a tear through all these years. I just told him to soak it all up. I said, ‘You deserve it.’ ”
Meachem said he doesn’t know whether Colston will return but said, “You never know, but me knowing him … he’ll be back.”
Receiver Kenny Stills also noted how emotional Colston, who caught two passes for 51 yards Sunday and finished the season with 59 catches for 902 yards and five TDs, became after the game.
“He talked to the guys. … He said he loved the guys and looked forward to doing it with us some more,” Stills said. “He just said, ‘Thank you.’ You know he’s quiet, but he said he loves playing with us and loves coming to work with us, and looks forward to another year.”
The go-ahead score was made even more special because it was the 68th time he has caught a touchdown pass from Drew Brees. They’re now fifth in NFL history for a quarterback-wide receiver duo — one ahead of Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne.
Brees said assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt made everyone aware in the team meeting Saturday night that Brees and Colston needed one more touchdown to move past Manning and Wayne.
“You couldn’t have scripted a better ending,” Brees said. “Obviously we wanted to get that touchdown to Marques. I just didn’t know it was going to come on that play.”
Colston lined up to the right and ran a slant pattern across the field. After making the grab, he turned upfield as one defender fell and then out-ran two other Bucs to the pylon.
“It was like, ‘Hey, let’s get the first down,’ but Marques turned it into a lot more,” Brees said. “He did a great job of beating his man and getting separation. It was great. … He’s a special guy.”
As far as Ingram is concerned, he said he’d like to return.
“I would love to be a Saint, but it’s a business,” said Ingram, who by far had his best season as a pro this year with 964 rushing yards and nine TDs. “We’ll see what happens, see what they’re talking about in the front office, and just go from there.”
When asked whether it hit him when the final play was run that it might have been his last game with the Saints, Ingram said, “No, not really.”
“I guess we’ll know when we get back (home), or over the course of the offseason,” he said. “We’ll see what’s up and just go from there.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.