Saints running back Mark Ingram said Wednesday afternoon he knew something was wrong with his left hand on this third carry of the first quarter of a Week 2 loss at Cleveland.
Ingram, though, dismissed it as a sprain and kept running. He finished with 11 carries for 83 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. Ingram also caught three passes for 21 yards.
Later, he discovered his left thumb was broken, an injury that took him off the field during what has been his best start to an NFL season.
Entering Sunday’s game at Detroit, Ingram is back in the backfield mix after missing three games and resting during the open week.
“I’m able to come back ... and pick up right where I left off, hopefully,” said Ingram, who is in the final season of his rookie contract. “Of course, it’s discouraging, frustrating, but it’s a part of our game, and you just have to come back stronger.”
In two games, Ingram has rushed 24 times for 143 yards and three touchdowns. He’s averaging 6 yards a carry.
Now, the Saints, once again, have a good problem: figuring out how to split carries in a crowded backfield of Ingram, Khiry Robinson (304 yards two touchdowns), Pierre Thomas (120 rushing yards, 187 receiving yards) and Travaris Cadet (83 receiving yards).
“He’s doing well, and we will kind of see how we handle that on Sunday,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Obviously, we value depth at that position.”
On Wednesday, fullback Erik Lorig also returned to practice.
“It feels great (to be back at practice),” Lorig said of his first participation at a Saints practice since Aug. 2.
Lorig was signed in the offseason from Tampa Bay to open running lanes for Ingram and others. His absence, though, has allowed his backup, Austin Johnson, unexpected opportunities with the offense.
While Detroit’s Matthew Stafford (1,592 yards) ranks above Saints quarterback Drew Brees (1,574) this season in passing — they rank eighth and ninth in the NFL — the Lions have struggled to protect their franchise leader.
Stafford has been sacked a league-high 21 times. In comparison, Brees has taken four sacks. The quarterbacks with the next-highest sacks are Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (17) and Jacksonville’s Chad Henne (16).
Saints free safety Kenny Vaccaro, after watching game film, said the sacks aren’t a product of Stafford holding on to the football longer.
“Guys are getting good pass rushes, guys are winning their matchups up front,” Vaccaro said.
The Saints enter Sunday’s game with six sacks.
LIONS’ BELL READY TO FACE FORMER TEAM
The Saints may also face Detroit running back Joique Bell, who spent most of 2011 with the Saints but did not play in a game.
“Every game is important, but sometimes you just go in the room and you just mark the calendar,” Bell told the Detroit Free Press earlier this week. “So I kind of had this marked on my calendar, but I’ve been taking it one game at a time.”
This season, Bell has rushed 66 times for 226 yards and two scores. He started last week’s 17-3 win at Minnesota, finishing with 74 yards and one score. Reggie Bush missed the game with an ankle injury.
Saints not practicing Wednesday included tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder), linebackers Ramon Humber (ankle) and Kyle Knox (ankle) and cornerback Patrick Robinson (hamstring).
For Detroit, receivers Calvin Johnson (ankle) and Jeremy Ross did not practice, as well as defensive end Ziggy Ansah (toe), running back Theo Riddick (hamstring), tight end Joseph Fauria (ankle) and linebacker Travis Lewis (quadriceps). Running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and tight end Eric Ebron (hamstring) were limited.