Mark, you complete me
Saints get stronger with return of Ingram
Are you ready for some football?
We’ve got a Monday night party this week in the Superdome, and football fans around the world will have their eyes on New Orleans.
This game is notable for two reasons: Drew Brees is on the precipice of taking over a major NFL record and Mark Ingram returns from a four-game suspension.
Although the Saints are a quarter of the way though the regular season, in many ways, this game feels like Opening Day, Part Two.
Brees is 201 yards shy of passing Peyton Manning to become the NFL’s career leader in passing yards. Listening to him, however, you wouldn’t know it. In typical fashion, he’s letting others talk about it. When reporters had a chance to ask Brees how he was feeling in a press conference on Thursday, he simply said, “I'm just focused on making great decisions in the game, moving the football, moving the chains, getting points, winning the game. That's really where my focus is.”
Brees is well aware of where he stands. He will get the yardage record this season, and he will celebrate it in due time. But he knows once he gets this mark, the conversation will just get noisier as the media and fans’ focus shifts to a horserace that will likely extend into next season. Brees is in a neck-and-neck battle with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to capture what may be the gold standard in records for quarterbacks, the career passing touchdowns record. With 539 career passing touchdowns, Manning currently holds that record, too. But he can hear the footsteps behind him. Brady had three touchdown passes on Thursday night against the Colts to move to 500 career TD passes. Brees enters the weekend at 496. Still, he is focusing on moving step-by-step, game-by-game.
So far the strategy is working, and it may get a little easier. The Saints are 3-1 and in first place in the NFC South. The nauseating feeling Saints fans were left with after the first game of the season, a surprise 48-40 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers feels long gone. A three-game win streak will certainly help to cure all ills. In that stretch, New Orleans has been without its power running back, Mark Ingram, who was suspended for the first four games due to using a banned performance enhancing substance. The Saints offense made it through on the backs of Brees, running back Alvin Kamara, and wide receiver Michael Thomas. Ingram’s return adds another dimension to the offense.
Saints players have admitted that they’ve missed Ingram on and off the field. They’ve described him as the heartbeat of the team, the player who is able to lift spirits and hype up the players for games and practices. He is well liked in the locker room and a guy players look to for leadership.
The return of Ingram’s power running style will add another weapon to the Saints’ already prolific offense. With him along side Kamara the team will again have a one-two punch in the running game, and won’t have to be so reliant on Brees’ arm to make plays and move the ball up the field. His presence should cause opposing defenses to move closer to the line of scrimmage to accommodate for his presence. That, in theory, should help to open up space behind the D line well into the secondary for the Saints receivers, tight ends and backs to create greater opportunities in the passing game.
“He’s such a productive player,” Brees said of Ingram at the Thursday press conference. “He's a guy who is so versatile you know he's all-purpose. Obviously, I feel like Alvin (Kamara) is too. Man, a complement of the two of them. I think you saw what we were able to do with those guys at the end of last year. So hopefully we'll pick up right where we left off. I, obviously, have a ton of trust and confidence in him and the game plan always gears itself in a lot of different ways where guys are going to get opportunities and then we'll see what we're getting in the game. Obviously, he'll be a part of that.”
Winning is on the Saints’ minds. Returning to the Super Bowl is their goal. If they win, individual honors will take care of themselves. It’s a great outlook that isn’t always at the forefront of modern athletics’ me, me, me, I, I, I attitudes.
Of course, Brees will get some well deserved attention when he breaks Manning’s record, and Who Dat Nation is behind him in his quest to top the record books.