METAIRIE — Chris Ivory had to sit through seven games and a bye week before getting his first carry of the season with the New Orleans Saints.
But, as Ivory showed everyone the past two weeks by rushing for 120 yards and two touchdowns on a 7.1-yard average, it’s not about how long you have to wait, but what you do with the opportunity when it comes.
“It’s a great thing to be out there,” said Ivory, a man of few words, on Wednesday. “I’ve been waiting for it.”
Running like he was angry for not getting a shot earlier, Ivory stepped in when Darren Sproles was sidelined with a fractured left hand. He ignited a dormant running game that has produced 140 and 148 yards in wins over Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Some say he’s running angry and violently, but the chiseled, 218-pound Ivory prefers to call it aggressive running.
Whatever it is, it’s working.
The Saints were averaging 72.6 rushing yards to rank last in the NFL through seven games; Ivory was inactive for five games, and he didn’t set foot on the field in the two he dressed for.
But when he blasted a 9-yard run the first time he touched the ball against the Eagles on Nov. 5 and produced a 22-yard touchdown on his next carry, it seemed to energize the Saints. After picking up 48 yards on 10 attempts against the Eagles, he added 72 yards on seven carries against the Falcons.
His first carry, a 56-yard TD run was highlight-reel stuff. He outran Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel to the edge, eluded a would-be tackle by safety Thomas DeCoud in front of the Falcons’ bench and then cut back across the field — stiff-arming cornerback Dunta Robinson at the 15 on his way to the end zone.
“They didn’t want the whole thing,” Ivory said when told Falcons defensive backs didn’t seem interested in tackling him on that run. “(DeCoud) did try to attempt to grab the legs. That’s about it. But he didn’t do a great job with that. I’ve got some tree limbs down there.”
Ivory punctuated the touchdown with an emphatic spike as more than 73,000 fans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome roared — and wondered where he’s been all this time. The answer is behind Pierre Thomas, Sproles, Mark Ingram and even undrafted free agent Travaris Cadet on the depth chart, even though there has been no clear explanation from the coaching staff for Ivory’s absence.
“They just said when my number is called to just go out and give it my best,” Ivory said. “(Running game coordinator Aaron Kromer) said, ‘One moment you’re down, and the next moment you’re up and you’re a star.’ That was about it.”
When asked whether Ivory appears to be running angry, interim coach Joe Vitt said the staff has seen him run over defenders since 2010, when he made the roster as an undrafted free agent and went on to lead the team in rushing.
“That’s what he does,” Vitt said. “He’s one of those backs that does a great job of running behind his pads. He is one of those backs that, at his size, he can make you miss. At the same time, he can lower his pads and run over some people.”
That was evident when, after stiff-arming Robinson on the first-quarter touchdown run, he ran over him — knocking him back a full 2 yards — at the end of a 13-yard screen pass in the third quarter that set up a touchdown.
That’s where the aggressive running comes in, Ivory said with a smile.
“That was a perfect example,” he said. “But it was a defensive back.”
When asked if that counts, Ivory said it did.
“It counts just as much,” he said. “For a DB, you want to take advantage of that and just let them feel your presence. If you do it enough, they don’t want to tackle you.”
Ivory uses his raw speed and power naturally, but Vitt said Ivory has become good at the little things, like switching the ball to the proper hand when finishing off his touchdown against the Falcons.
“Those are the little things that he’s really worked on to become a better player,” Vitt said. “It’s fun to watch, and we’re proud of him.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees likes what he has seen — “If that’s the way he’s going to run when he’s frustrated, I hope he’s really frustrated for the rest of the year,” he said — and he’s sure Ivory will get more opportunities, which was good news to receiver Lance Moore.
“The guy was on the bench, and we put him in and got the dust off him,” Moore said Sunday. “It was exciting to see him run the ball and catch the ball. … I can’t wait to see more.”