NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints may have plucked another exciting young running back from the ranks of the undrafted.
Rookie Chris Ivory turned a swing pass into a tackle-breaking, zigzagging, 76-yard score in New Orleans' 36-21 preseason victory over the San Diego Chargers on Friday night.
Ivory's 45 yards rushing and 76 yards receiving were the most of any player in the game. Essentially, he played like Pierre Thomas, who joined the Saints as an undrafted rookie in 2007.
Drew Brees set the tone for New Orleans (2-1) with 240 yards passing, including touchdowns to Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem.
Philip Rivers led two touchdown drives for the Chargers (1-2). His 167 yards passing included a 9-yard TD toss to Malcom Floyd.
Ivory, who is a broad-shouldered 6 feet and 222 pounds, never rushed for more than 313 yards at Washington State, where he spent three years before being dismissed for violations. He finished his college career with an injury-plagued season at Division II Tiffin and wound up with a grand total of 757 yards rushing in his college career.
With his performance against San Diego coming after solid performances in the Saints' first two preseason games — he had a TD run at New England and rushed for 66 yards against Houston — he appears likely to make the regular season roster, particularly after season-ending injuries to running backs Lynell Hamilton and P.J. Hill.
The Saints had a scare when starting middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma went down with a right groin injury early in the third quarter. He jogged off the field on his own and the severity of his injury was not immediately clear.
Brees was 18 of 27 and looked sharp for the most part, though his longest completion, a 46-yard touchdown to Henderson, looked like and ill-advised throw into coverage that was nearly intercepted.
Cornerback Antoine Cason saw the pass all the way, got inside position and went up for the interception near the goal line, but Henderson swiped from behind to break up the play and wound up tipping the ball to himself in the end zone.
The Chargers are hoping Cason, a 2008 first-round draft pick, can help fill the void left when the Chargers traded Antonio Cromartie to the New York Jets. Cason had a rough night against Brees and the Saints' high-powered offense, though.
He was victimized on New Orleans' second score when he anticipated a throw to the corner of the end zone, only to have Meachem cut underneath for an easy 15-yard catch to make it 14-7.
Brees' highlights including a 21-yard pass down the middle to Jeremy Shockey and a heady backhanded flip to Reggie Bush in the flat for a 38-yard gain that set up Garrett Hartley's 40-yard field goal in the last minute of the first half. Bush wound up with seven receptions for 70 yards. Marques Colston had 55 yards on four catches.
San Diego's first-team offense was inconsistent, but put together two impressive scoring drives in the first half. The Chargers opened the game with a balanced, 12-play, 82-yard touchdown drive. Jacob Hester capped it with a powerful 6-yard run on which he stretched across the goal line. Rivers was 5 of 6 for 44 yards on the drive, while first-round draft choice Ryan Mathews gained 32 yards on five carries, highlighted by a 16-yd run.
Rivers, who was taken out in the middle of the third quarter, finished 16 of 27.
Journeyman Billy Volek replaced Rivers and quickly attempted a deep pass, only to have it intercepted by Saints reserve safety Usama Young. He was later intercepted by Leigh Torrence, who went the other way for an 87-yard score in the final seconds.
Former Tulane quarterback Patrick Ramsey backed up Brees and was 10 of 18 for 191 yards and 1 TD.
The Saints, who have led the NFL in offense in three of the past four seasons, finished with 552 yards of total offense.