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ST. LOUIS – With the New Orleans Saints making it a priority to upgrade their running game this season, it didn't take long for Mark Ingram to get up to speed.
The rest of the Saints might need a little more time.
Ingram ran for 83 yards and a touchdown on just eight carries Friday night, helping New Orleans escape with a 26-24 victory in its preseason opener against the St. Louis Rams.
Ingram broke free for a 22-yard score on an inside zone play in the second quarter, zipping around safety Cody Davis on his way into the end zone.
"As a group we wanted to come out here and start fast and give the coaching staff and the team confidence that we can be physical and run the football," Ingram said.
"The line was just physical up front, got a lot of movement off the ball and created a lot of seams and holes for us to run through. As runners, you've got to love that."
Ingram missed five games early last season with a toe injury, then came back to average a career-best 4.9 yards per carry in limited work.
He finished the season with 389 yards rushing, then did some of his best work in the postseason with a team-best 146 yards and a touchdown.
"I'm just trying to get better, man. Last year was last year, and I'm just trying to improve on last year and get better," Ingram said.
"It's a new year, new team and this team will have a new identity. I'm just trying to improve, become better and be the best player I can be to help us win."
Besides Ingram, the rest of the Saints' ground game didn't look much better than last year's attack that ranked 25th in the league.
New Orleans' other rushers managed only 40 yards on 16 carries, with Khiry Robinson ramming his way in for a 1-yard TD in the second quarter.
Late in the game, the Saints' reserves couldn't pound away enough to run out the clock and only a pair of missed Greg Zuerlein field goals preserved the win.
"Look, there are a lot of things that frustrate you in a game like that and you still won," coach Sean Payton said. "I was encouraged that it was important to them to win. That was something that we talked about. I thought we were physical and yet sloppy at times."
Payton was particularly disappointed that his team didn't force any turnovers and got penalized 10 times for 104 yards.
Luke McCown started in place of Drew Brees, limited by a left oblique injury for a week. First-round pick Brandin Cooks caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from third-stringer Ryan Griffin in the third quarter.
"It's a good start. That's all it is is a start," tackle Zach Strief said. "We're going to look back and there'll be tons of mistakes and yet it feels much better than how it started last year. There's a lot more comfort in the scheme that we're running and how we're running it and what we want to do."
The Rams wasted no time getting Michael Sam in the game, and the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL made a solid debut as a reserve defensive end.
Sam was a seventh-round draft pick and he's attempting to launch his pro career a two-hour drive from where he starred on a 12-win Missouri team that played in the SEC title game last season.
Sam began playing on the second defensive series and made two nice plays in the second quarter, pressuring Griffin into an incompletion and getting a tackle.
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