NEW ORLEANS — A bad break unwittingly provided a helping hand to a broken down New Orleans Saints running game Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.
With Darren Sproles on the sideline nursing a broken left hand, fresh-legged running back Chris Ivory saw his first action of the season and joined running mates Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram to pump some life into a dormant phase of the Saints offense.
Ivory (48), Ingram (44) and Thomas (44) combined for 136 yards rushing, sparking the Saints to a crucial 28-13 victory against the slumping Eagles before a sellout crowd of 73,099 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Throw in a short run from fifth-string running back Travaris Cadet, and the Saints amassed 140 yards rushing for their second-most productive game on the ground this season, trailing only the 162-yard output in a Game 2 road loss against the Carolina Panthers.
The Saints (3-5) entered Monday night’s game with the NFL’s 32nd-ranked rushing offense, averaging 72.6 yards through the first seven games. Though no individual running back eclipsed the 50-yard mark, the group accounted for nearly double the team’s previous average.
And it all started with Ivory, the subject of trade rumors right up to last Thursday’s trade deadline. He rushed for a team-high 48 yards on 10 carries, including a nifty 22-yard scoring run that boosted the Saints’ lead to 14-3 with 8:33 remaining in the first half.
“I waited eight weeks for this,’’ Ivory said. “I cherish it, and I’ve just got to move on from tonight. I had a lot of energy tonight for obvious reasons, but playing on Monday Night Football gives you a lot of energy.
“It felt good to be able to contribute tonight and not just standing on the sideline watching. I just wanted to make something happen when I got an opportunity, and I got that opportunity tonight.’’
Ivory had been conspicuously absent through the first seven games, dressing for five but never playing, which only served to fuel trade speculation.
“I talked with people in our organization, but they informed me they didn’t know anything about a trade,’’ said Ivory, who will become a restricted free agent at the end of the season. “But it really didn’t matter to me, because at the end of the day, I knew (a trade) could have opened up another door for me. All I could do was stay patient and keep optimistic
“But I’m glad I’m still a Saint, and I’ll keep working hard. Hopefully, I don’t vanish again. That would be disappointing.’’
Whether Ivory vanishes again and how many touches he ultimately gets in the coming weeks probably depends on the status of Sproles, whose injury would typically sideline a player between four-to-six weeks.
Regardless, Saints interim coach Joe Vitt and players seemed happy to have some semblance of a running game, if only for one night.
“We got a lot of work to do but tonight was encouraging,’’ Vitt said.
“When we run the ball like we did tonight, it makes us a more balanced offense,’’ Saints receiver Marques Colston said. “Any time you can have that balance, it makes the play-action a lot more viable. It also makes the play-caller’s job a lot easier.’’
It also takes pressure off Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who stands to benefit from a balanced running game.
“We got a great stable of running backs,’’ Brees said. “When they were given the opportunity tonight, they made the most of it. They know their opportunities will come, they just don’t know when.
“But they know that on any given night, we will feed the hot hand. So they never know but they know to be ready.’’
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