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Mark Ingram wins 2nd career FedEx Ground Player of the Week award

New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) celebrates his touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. The Saints won 44-23. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)

New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) celebrates his touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. The Saints won 44-23. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)

Saints running back Mark Ingram bagged his second career FedEx Ground Player of the Week award on Thursday.

Ingram earned the award after rushing for more carries (24) and yards (172) against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night than he ever had since entering the NFL as one of the Saints’ first-round draft choices in 2011. He also scored a touchdown in the 44-23 pummeling of the Packers during what was the most productive outing by a Saints running back since 2003.

Ingram was nominated for the award alongside Houston running back Arian Foster, who had 20 carries for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the Texans’ 30-16 victory against the Tennessee Titans; and Dallas’ DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 141 yards and added 80 yards receiving for 221 total yards from scrimmage in a defeat against Washington on Monday night. Fans voting at NFL.com/FedEx lodged more votes in favor of Ingram than they did for either Foster or Murray.

Ingram has won the FedEx Ground Player of the Week once previously — after Week 10 last year, when he rushed for what was then a career-best 145 yards as well as a touchdown in a 49-17 rout of the Cowboys.

He leads the Saints in rushing yards this year with 331 and is tied for first on his team in touchdowns scored (four). He’s also No. 1 among NFL running backs who rush the ball at least 6.25 times per game in the yards per carry category (5.7).

After beating the Packers (5-3), the Saints (3-4) had a short week to prepare for a visit to the Carolina Panthers (3-4-1) on Thursday night.

Saints kicker Shayne Graham is October’s NFC Special Teams Player of the Month

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--New Orleans Saints kicker Shayne Graham (3) celebrates a score with New Orleans Saints tackle Marcel Jones (70) and New Orleans Saints quarterback Luke McCown (7) in a preseason game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. Friday, Aug. 15, 2014.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON–New Orleans Saints kicker Shayne Graham (3) celebrates a score with New Orleans Saints tackle Marcel Jones (70) and New Orleans Saints quarterback Luke McCown (7) in a preseason game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. Friday, Aug. 15, 2014.

No special teams player was better than Saints kicker Shayne Graham was in the NFC for the month of October, the NFL announced Thursday morning.

The 14-year-veteran earned the first Special Teams Player of the Month of his career after going 9-of-9 on field goals and 9-of-9 on extra points kicked in three games the Saints have played in October, two of which they won.

He was the only player to convert at least three kicks in every game his team played between Weeks 5 and 8 of the NFL season, according to the league.

One of Graham’s field goals — a 44-yarder — tied up an Oct. 5 clash in New Orleans against Tampa Bay at 31 late in the fourth quarter. The Saints subsequently triumphed 37-31 in overtime.

Then, as the Saints (3-4) pummeled the Green Bay Packers (5-3) by a score of 44-23 in New Orleans on Sunday night, Graham nailed all three of his field goal attempts in the first half as the two teams played to a 16-16 stalemate. That helped set New Orleans up to pull away in the second half.

Graham’s award comes about a month after he had somewhat put himself on the metaphorical hot seat. He had a missed extra point deflected in a win at home against Minnesota on Sept. 21, and the following week he pushed a kick wide in a blowout loss at Dallas.

Nonetheless, Graham this season is a rock solid 13-of-14 on field goals (92.9 percent) and 20-of-21 on extra points (95.2 percent).

The Saints close out their October on Thursday night with a visit to the Carolina Panthers (3-4-1).

Jimmy Graham says he hurried back because he knows how his presence helps the Saints

Jimmy Graham knew he didn’t have time to lollygag and casually approach his rehabilitation during the bye week.

After being knocked out of action Oct. 5 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a shoulder injury that was expected to sideline him for 2-3 weeks, the New Orleans Saints tight end made it his goal to use the ensuing bye week to ensure his layoff would be as minimal as possible.

“I was pretty much in here every day, all day,” Graham said. “Sacrificed pretty much every day to try and get back. It’s important for me to be out there on the field. I know when I’m on the field it helps with coverages and helps Drew get a read on exactly what they’re doing.”

Graham played 30 snaps in a loss to the Detroit Lions coming out of the bye, but appeared to be nearing his old form during Sunday night’s 44-23 win over the Green Bay Packers, catching five passes for 59 yards with a touchdown.

The tight end did, however, admit that he’s still working to get back to full health.

“It’s going all right. Just trying to get as healthy as possible for each and every game,” Graham said. “We’re on a short week. Got a lot of work to do. But I think it will be good. … I’m in the games. That’s as good as it gets right now.”

Thing become a little more challenging this week since the Saints play the Panthers Thursday night on the road. The quick turnaround means Graham and his teammates have limited time to recover this week, but he noted that “nobody really cares” about the difficulties.

“It’s tough, I think, for everybody, really, to play Sunday night and then come and play Thursday,” he said.

The Packers’ Eddie Lacy lives up to billing in New Orleans homecoming, but loss to Saints will be tough for him to swallow

On an individual level, Packers running back and New Orleans-area native Eddie Lacy did not disappoint his supporters who went to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday night to watch his first game there as a pro.

Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) carries over a fallen New Orleans Saints free safety Rafael Bush (25) in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)

Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) carries over a fallen New Orleans Saints free safety Rafael Bush (25) in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)

Lacy had 182 yards from scrimmage against the Saints — 59 off 13 carries and 123 off eight catches. A screen pass he hauled in for a 67-yard gain set up a field goal that gave Green Bay a 10-7 lead in the first quarter.

But in the end, it was far from enough as the Saints (3-4) trounced the Packers (5-3) by a score of 44-23 to ruin Lacy’s homecoming; and his personal brilliance was of no consolation.

“It’s always great to come back home and play a game,” said Lacy, whose Packers had won four straight before their ill-fated jaunt to New Orleans. “But I wasn’t happy with the result — we’re a much better football team than that.”

Lacy’s ties to southeastern Louisiana are famously deep. He hails from the community of Gretna just outside New Orleans’ West Bank section; and, after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his family’s home in 2005, he finished high school at Dutchtown in Geismar, where he was a highly-recruited running back.

Lacy played for former LSU coach Nick Saban at Alabama in college, and he was teammates with Saints running back Mark Ingram for a season there. Lacy was part of two BCS titles for the Crimson Tide and redshirted for a third championship between 2010 and 2013.

One of those championships was clinched at the Superdome at the expense of LSU (where his half-brother, Donovan Grayson, used to play linebacker): in 2012, when Lacy was a sophomore.

Lacy declared for the draft in the spring of 2013, and the Packers chose him in the second round. He rewarded them in his first season in Green Bay with 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns off 284 carries; 257 yards on 35 pass receptions; a Pro Bowl berth; and the Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year trophy as the Packers qualified for the playoffs.

Midway through his second season in Green Bay, Lacy has 637 yards from scrimmage and four rushing touchdowns. The Packers had a more than viable shot at a fifth-straight win when facing a Saints team that dropped four of its first six games this year; but, after playing to a 16-16 halftime stalemate, Green Bay was intercepted twice and lost the ball a third time on downs.

The Saints got 21 points off the interceptions and the turnover on downs to vanquish the Packers.

“We started the game … good, but then we had some turnovers, and that can’t happen,” Lacy said. “It’s how you respond, and that’s something we didn’t do a great job doing. It’s a real long season , and we can’t let the outcome from today affect us for the rest of the year.”

Nonetheless, that didn’t mean Lacy left the Superdome without making a lasting impression Sunday night.

“He was behind me … at Alabama — can you believe that?” said Ingram, who rushed for a career-high 172 yards as well as a touchdown against Green Bay. “He had a great game — just shows you what type of playmaker he is.”

More impressive than the Saints’ home primetime game winning streak are Drew Brees’ numbers during it

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) calls out to the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) calls out to the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)

After he and the Saints thrashed the Green Packers 44-23 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday night, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees’ numbers at home in primetime grew even more insane than they already were.

Brees has completed 73.1 percent of his passes for 4,580 yards, 46 touchdowns and only four interceptions the last 14 times the Saints have hosted a primetime game (counting the playoffs), all of which New Orleans has won. For context, Brees’ 71.2 percent completion rate for the 2011 season was the best all-time. The 327.1 yards per game he has during the streak would equate to 5,234 yards in a season, which would be the fourth-best all-time and the second-most in the career of Brees, who is the only NFL player to ever throw for 5,000+ yards in more than one campaign (he’s done it four times).

The aforementioned stats for Brees include his 27-of-32 passing for 311 yards and one touchdown throw each to rookie receiver Brandin Cooks, All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham and second-year tight end Josh Hill in Sunday night’s victory over the Packers (5-3), who had won four straight games before their trip to New Orleans.

“The Green Bay Packers are playing about as well as any team in the league right now,” Brees said. “We knew the challenge that was ahead of us.”

The Saints (3-4) were coming off a defeat at Detroit the previous week in which they squandered a 23-10 lead they seized late in the fourth quarter and lost 24-23. Brees contributed to the meltdown by throwing his seventh interception of the season to set up the Lions’ go-ahead score.

With Green Bay up next on the schedule, many did not believe a primetime home game winning streak that had reached 13 would survive for the Saints, not after they’d lost dropped of their first six outings this year. It wasn’t only that streak which seemed in jeopardy — the Saints had also won 19 consecutive home games with Saints coach Sean Payton on the sidelines before kicking off against the Packers.

But the Saints got 14 points off two interceptions thrown by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (28-of-39 for 418 yards, a touchdown and a rushing TD). They got another seven points off a Green Bay turnover on downs to help blow what had been a 16-16 halftime stalemate wide open, and they tied a season-high with three sacks of Rodgers (limited by a strained hamstring).

Saints running back Mark Ingram rushed for both a career-high 172 yards and a touchdown. And Brees handled much of the rest, being careful he did not throw an interception in the course of a game for only the second time this season.

“My grandfather always said, ‘There’s three types of people, three types of teams — those that make it happen, those that watch it happen and those who wake up one day and say, ‘What the heck happened?’” Brees remarked. “I feel like all this year we’ve been waking up and saying, ‘What the heck happened?’ And it’s about time we made it happen.”

Payton on Sunday night spoke for pretty much anyone who has seen Brees play each of the last 14 times there’s been a primetime game in New Orleans when he said in a news conference, “(Drew) was magnificent. He was spot on.”

The MVP of the Saints’ victory in Super Bowl XLIV, Brees on Monday was fourth in the NFL this season in passing yards (2,227). His 14 touchdowns have him in a four-way tie for ninth, and his passer rating of 97.4 is 11th.

Coach Sean Payton never doubted himself on crucial, successful challenge that helped Saints put Packers away

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton calls out from the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. The Saints won 44-23. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton calls out from the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. The Saints won 44-23. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

Perhaps the easiest question Saints coach Sean Payton answered in the news conference he held after his team pummeled Green Bay 44-23 on Sunday night was whether he had come close to not challenging the spot of a play that had been ruled a third-down conversion for the Packers — but had actually come up short.

“I haven’t met many I don’t like — challenges, that is,” Payton coolly told reporters.

That was a good thing for Payton on Sunday night. After deciding to successfully challenge that play, the Saints finished off the Packers (5-3) to bolster their 2014 record to 3-4.

The play in question occurred with the Saints ahead 23-16 with 4:19 to go in the third quarter. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (28-of-39 for 418 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions while playing with a hamstring strain for part of the game) completed a short pass on third-and-7 to receiver Davante Adams that the officiating crew led by Ed Hochuli originally said was just long enough to get Green Bay a new set of downs at its 41.

But Payton threw his red flag to challenge the spot.

“We knew he caught it — the question really was, ‘Was there a slight bobble before he secured it?’” said Payton, whose team had all three of its second-half timeouts. “It is one of those where you are looking at the timeouts, and it was close enough; it was significant enough being that it was a third-down call.”

After reviewing the play, Hochuli determined Adams had come up short of the first-down marker, reversing the call on the field and setting up Green Bay for a fourth-and-1 from its 40. Payton improved to 2-of-3 on challenges this year; and, when the Packers went for it on fourth down, Saints linebacker David Hawthorne and defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker stuffed running back Eddie Lacy (13 carries for 59 yards and eight catches for 123 yards) for no gain.

The Packers as a result turned the ball over to the Saints on downs. New Orleans ran three plays before quarterback Drew Brees hit All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham for a 22-yard touchdown pass that helped give the a 30-16 lead.

It was one of three touchdowns thrown by Brees (27-of-32 for 311 yards and no interceptions). The Saints would score two more touchdowns and concede only one TD to a Packers team before the game ended, meaning New Orleans outpaced its opponent 21-7 after Payton won his challenge of the referees’ decision to erroneously award Green Bay a first down.

“I’m glad,” Payton said, “we were able (to challenge).”

The Saints are now 76-43 in the regular season under Payton, who took charge of the franchise in 2006. They visit the Carolina Panthers (3-4-1) on Thursday night, where they’ll try to win on the road after losing nine of their last 10 regular-season away games.

If the Saints win, they’d be in first place of the NFC South after losing four of their first six games this season.

Stock watch: Corey White up, NFC South down following Saints’ win over Packers

A look at how some players saw their stock change following Sunday’s 44-23 win over the Green Bay Packers:

FLYING HIGH

CB Corey White: Booed by the crowd before the game, White bounced back following a shaky performance against the Detroit Lions by creating a David Hawthorne interception and picking off a pass of his own.

WR Brandin Cooks: The first-round pick broke out against the Packers with 94 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. It was a big turnaround after a few quiet weeks.

RB Mark Ingram: No Khiry Robinson or Pierre Thomas? No problem. Serving as the featured back, Ingram rushed 24 times for 172 yards.

QB Drew Brees: The Saints quarterback played perhaps his best game and kept pace with Aaron Rodgers by completing 27-of-32 passes for 311 yards with three touchdowns. No need to question his arm. It’s fine.

TE Ben Watson: Did you see that block he delivered to get Cooks in the end zone in the first quarter?

SHAKING DOWN

FB Erik Lorig: He had some good moments, including a big blitz pickup on the 50-yard touchdown pass to Cooks, but a fumble will land you on this list.

The NFC South: The rest of the division lost today. It’s amazing to think the Saints are still alive and have a chance to take over first place with a win over the Panthers Thursday night.

Brees’ one poor decision: Why did Brees throw a short pass to Marques Colston with four seconds remaining at the end of the second quarter? If Colston catches that (and there isn’t a flag) New Orleans doesn’t get a shot to attempt a field goal going into halftime.

 

Welcome to the Superdome for tonight’s game between the Saints and Packers

dome

Welcome to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome where the Saints host the Packers tonight.

We’d like to say that this game carries critical implications — and it sort of does — but the Saints can lose this game, fall to 2-5, and not lose any ground in the NFC South race since everyone else already lost today.

Looking at things through a more internal scope, this is a game New Orleans needs to win. Not only would it be a confidence booster and prove to both those inside and outside the organization that there is hope for this season, it would also put the Saints in position to overtake Carolina Thursday night.

JIMMY WATCH: No word yet on if Jimmy Graham will be unleashed this week after playing just 30 snaps against the Lions. The feeling here is that he will ramp things up a little bit tonight, but I’m not sure he sees a full slate of snaps.

RUNNING LOW: The expectation here is that Mark Ingram will get a chance to show what he can do as the featured back. With Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas both out, there really isn’t anyone to take the ball out of his hands. Travaris Cadet will figure in, but he’ll more likely be on the field in passing situations.

PROJECTING THE INACTIVES: The Saints have already ruled out Thomas, Robinson, center Jonathan Goodwin, and linebacker Kyle Knox have already been ruled out. The guess here is that wide receiver Nick Toon, fullback Erik Lorig, and defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick will be the others.

COVERAGE: Stick with us here throughout the night for everything you need to know.