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Saints' Mark Ingram, Michael Thomas: From fumbles to fantastic

NEW ORLEANS -- To say New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram and Michael Thomas have bounced back from adversity in a huge way this season would be a huge understatement.

Both of them hit a low point earlier this season when they ran into fumbling issues. Ingram was even benched for most of a game and demoted into a timeshare with fellow running back Tim Hightower.

But clearly neither player allowed that to send them into the tank. They were among the Saints’ two most dominant players in Sunday’s 49-21 rout of the Los Angeles Rams.

Ingram ran for 146 yards on 14 carries -- including a 61-yarder and a 10-yard touchdown. He also caught a 21-yard touchdown pass.

Thomas caught nine passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns, both of which were fantastic efforts by the rookie. He went up high over two defenders for a 6-yard fade pass and held on while hitting the ground. Then he eluded one defender and powered through another for a 21-yard TD catch.

Ingram ran with so much power and authority while repeatedly breaking tackles on his four double-digit run plays that he was told the hashtag “Angry Mark” was trending on social media.

But he insisted, “I try to run angry all the time.”

“The run game is a battle, man,” Ingram said. “You’re not always gonna have 14 carries for 140 yards. Sometimes you’re gonna have 20 carries for 60 yards. It’s a run game battle. I try and run angry all the time; that’s my m.o., that’s what I try to hang my hat on when I’m running the ball. I run physical, with intensity, just try to bring energy to my team.”

Ingram has had a terrific attitude all season, despite his temporary benching after he fumbled in back-to-back games against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7 and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8.

He looked especially determined in this one -- which also required him to bounce back from the adversity of his first concussion 10 days earlier at the Carolina Panthers.

“I just gotta thank the Lord for helping me recover and get back and have a great game,” said Ingram, who said he never felt any symptoms last week. “And my offensive line did a great job opening up big holes … and (coaches Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael Jr.) had faith in calling the plays and putting together a great run game. And I just had to take care of the rest.”

Ingram joked that his screen-pass TD was so well designed that, “I feel like any of you guys (in the media) could’ve scored on that.”

“I was pretty much running at like a 75 or 80 percent pace,” Ingram said. “I get out there and there’s four black jerseys and one white jersey.”

Of course, the timeshare between Ingram and Hightower continued Sunday -- and probably will continue going forward.

Hightower actually had one more carry than Ingram and one more catch, finishing with 15 carries for 51 yards and two catches for 54 yards, including a 50-yard TD catch on the trick-play pass from receiver Willie Snead.

Hightower was wide open on that play, but he did show a nasty move by making safety Maurice Alexander whiff in the open field.

As for Thomas, he clearly didn’t let his two lost fumbles in the fourth quarter of a 25-23 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 10 knock him off his sensational rookie path.

The big, sure-handed second-round draft pick from Ohio State now leads the Saints in every receiving category, with 65 catches, 789 yards and seven touchdowns.

Stunningly, top Saints receiver Brandin Cooks wasn’t even targeted once in Sunday’s high-scoring affair, despite playing 45 snaps.

Most likely, the Rams’ defense focused on containing Cooks -- who has been such a dynamic threat inside the Superdome this year -- while the Saints focused more than usual on the run game and passes to tight ends.

Cooks will likely have more big days to come. But this was another reminder of how big days can rotate from player to player in New Orleans’ deep, diverse offense. And Cooks was likely frustrated by his quiet day, as well. He hinted earlier this season that he didn’t like being used in a clear-out role.

And he posted a message on Twitter, saying, “They tell you it’s a business. Well I guess I have to turn into a businessman.”