Before getting bottled up by Cincinnati and Baltimore, New Orleans boasted one of the most productive running games in the NFL.
That’s why Mark Ingram expected a return to form on Sunday at Pittsburgh, when the Saints rushed for 143 yards on 26 carries (5.5 average) while ending a three-game losing streak.
Ingram had his fourth 100-yard game in six weeks, finishing with 122 yards on 23 attempts. Earlier this year, he became the first Saints running back to gain 100 or more yards in three consecutive games since Deuce McAllister in 2003.
“I knew we would get it going,” Ingram said. “We just had to get back to doing our fundamentals and executing and playing physical. The offensive line created seams to run through, and everybody was on the same page.”
The Saints (5-7) are ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing, averaging 126.3 yards. The only times they have finished among the top 10 in that category under Sean Payton were 2009, when they won the Super Bowl, and 2011, when they went 13-3.
With 767 yards through 12 games, Ingram is on pace to be Payton’s first 1,000-yard runner since McAllister in 2006.
The two-game stretch against Cincinnati and Baltimore, when the running backs averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry, appears to be an anomaly.
“Saying going into a game we need to outrush these guys is one thing, but then going in and doing it was important,” Payton said. “Up front, we did a really good job of handling some of the stunts and movements.”
When do you know a team played a pretty complete game? How about when the coach’s biggest lament a day later is not putting a return guy in the end zone for a long field goal attempt?
Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham was short on a 54-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.
“That was a mistake on our part,” Payton said. “When they are attempting a long field goal like that and you have a lot of big guys that can’t run, we should have had someone catching that and having an opportunity for what amounts to a chance at a return.”
The Saints had plenty of time to make the move since Payton called a timeout before the kick. The Steelers had left their offense on the field, then sent Suisham on the field after the timeout.
“There was a period there where it was going to be us defending a play, so I wanted to stop everything and make sure we got what we want on the field,” Payton said. “In my mind, I was back from defense to field goal block as opposed to defense to field goal return.”
Suisham’s miss was the first against the Saints all year. Opposing kickers had been 23 of 23 on field goals.
Jordan dismissed as unimportant the argument between Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan that Fox caught on camera after the Saints were penalized for having 12 men on the field.
“Coach Payton is very passionate about the game, and so is Rob,” Jordan said. “When you get two passionate people (together), I’m sure they are going to have words.”
Payton vehemently denied any lingering disagreement between him and Ryan after the game, pointing out he has chewed out other coaches and players as well without it being caught on camera.
Ingram admitted he had been the subject of a Payton diatribe in the past but did not let it bother him. He added Payton was more easy-going than his college coach — Nick Saban, who never made him cry but “made you want to.”
“He (Saban) was a little more in your face,” Ingram said. “Coach Payton is a little more chill, but he’ll get in your face, too, when he feels like he needs to.”
Defensive end Cam Jordan’s first career interception was anything but routine. After batting a Ben Roethlisberger pass, he caught the deflection at the Steelers’ 21 and returned it 6 yards to set up a touchdown in the third quarter.
“I’ve done it a couple of times in practice over the past couple of years, but I never got a chance to do it in a game,” Jordan said. “I finally got the right bounce off the hand. Luckily I had enough awareness to track the ball immediately. I made a decent play, but I thought I was going to score.”
It was New Orleans’ first interception on an opponent’s side of the 50.
Pittsburgh’s 36 first downs were the most New Orleans ever has allowed, surpassing the 35 Atlanta had in 1979. … New Orleans (31st) and Atlanta (32nd), the co-leaders in the NFC South, have given up more yards than any other team in the NFL. … With his five scoring throws against Pittsburgh, Drew Brees moved into sole possession of fourth place on the NFL list for career TD passes with 390. New England’s Tom Brady, who threw for two scores against Green Bay, has 387.