Saints’ Ingram sloughs off boos for career-best game

As a roar of boos filled his ears, Saints running back Mark Ingram flailed his arms, shook his head and stomped off the field of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after he dropped a 2-yard pass six plays into the game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

He could have planted himself on the bench and decided his third season in the NFL just wouldn’t be his year — up to that point, he’d sat out five of his team’s games with a toe injury, and he had gotten a pitiful 2.4 yards the 21 times he’d been given the football in the other three contests.

Ingram, however, refused. Teammate Pierre Thomas said Ingram started catching practice throws from him and backup quarterback Luke McCown.

He listened to Thomas tell him, “Keep all the negative stuff out. ... See yourself gaining yards, breaking these tackles, getting first downs or running for a long one.”

The next 14 times the ball was handed to him, Ingram rushed for a career-best 145 yards.

He ripped off his team’s two longest rushes of the year. He made the Cowboys (5-5) miss seven tackles, also a career best for him, according to the website Pro Football Focus.

And he pounded in his first touchdown of the season to help the Saints (7-2) thrash Dallas 49-17.

“I just wanted to come out and show the world what I can do, what type of player I am, what type of back I am, what type of emotion I play with,” Ingram said. “I just wanted to come out here (Sunday night) and do the best I could to help us win a game.”

Countless people outside the Saints organization doubted whether he could actually do that after he failed to convert a fourth-and-1 situation and a fourth-and-goal during the season’s first two weeks.

He had a paltry 31 yards on 17 carries in those contests before he hurt his toe and was inactive for more than a month, infuriating Saints fans who had been disappointed in his lack of production and can’t stand his unabashed support for his alma mater, LSU rival Alabama, where he won a national title and the Heisman Trophy.

Ingram didn’t exactly quiet the naysayers when he returned to action in a defeat to the New York Jets on Nov. 3. Though he did relatively well in a limited role, running for 19 yards on four attempts, he wasn’t used on a crucial fourth-and-1.

Coach Sean Payton instead dialed up an end-around that resulted in a loss of 8 yards, causing some to speculate that the Saints simply didn’t trust Ingram.

Things were no better when Ingram failed to catch the early pass from Drew Brees on Sunday night. And they appeared to worsen in the second quarter when Ingram punctuated a 13-yard run by spinning the ball and twice slapping his helmet with his hands, earning him a delay of game penalty.

Who Dats’ patience for Ingram was about out, and they showered him with more boos. But at least one teammate viewed that display from Ingram as “a release point.”

“He needed to get that out, ... all (the) frustration (of) what he was going through,” said Thomas, who rushed for 87 yards and scored two total touchdowns against Dallas. “He needed to get it out of his system. I think everybody else (on the team) recognized that.”

What followed gives credence to that statement.

Ingram ultimately rushed for an average of 19 yards each time he ran in between center Brian de la Puente and either right guard Jahri Evans or left guard Ben Grubbs, Pro Football Focus’ calculations indicate. That’s astounding for a back many thought couldn’t rush and offensive linemen whose run-blocking ability had been questioned as of late.

Ingram, who also caught two passes for 15 yards, picked up seven of New Orleans’ NFL record-setting 40 first downs. With two more, he would’ve matched the number of first downs the Cowboys tallied as a team.

Ingram tore off rushes of 31 and 34 yards. But the carry he relished most was a third-quarter, four-yard touchdown, the 11th of his career. It was his first since scoring against Dallas on Dec. 23 last season, and he celebrated it by falling to his knees, kissing his right hand, pointing toward the sky and keeping the ball.

“You saw a player that ran hard and had holes and did a lot of the things that I’m sure he felt he could do,” Payton said about Ingram on Monday. “He got the right opportunity and the right number of touches (and) ... played exceptionally well.”

Ingram, for his part, remarked, “It felt good just to feel good. It feels good to feel good.”