New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa Bay gallery (35 photos)The New Orleans Saints have another offensive star to worry about.
Just when you thought the Saints' offense couldn't emit any more star power, a dreadlocked rookie from Longview, Texas, by way of Tiffin, Ohio, bursts on the scene like a zenith from a far-off galaxy.
The game film of Chris Ivory's 158-yard breakout performance Sunday in a 31-6 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers undoubtedly will create nightmares for NFL defensive coordinators as they consider ways to stop the Saints' high-powered offense.
In addition to Drew Brees and Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey and Lance Moore and Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem, they now must account for Ivory's jaw-dropping combination of speed and power in the Saints' backfield.
And just think what happens when Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas return to health.
"With Reggie (Bush) and Pierre (Thomas) down right now, to have three backs that we have confidence in, to come in the game and perform at a high level, that speaks volumes to our entire organization for finding guys to come in here to step in, and step up," right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. "Obviously, this was Chris Ivory's coming-out party."
How special was Ivory's performance?
His breakout day placed him alongside some of the most glamorous names in Saints history.
His yardage total was the most by a Saints back in nearly seven years, dating to Deuce McAllister's 165-yard game against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 30, 2003.
They were the most by a Saints rookie runner since Ricky Williams went for 179 yards in 1999 and the most ever by a Saints back under Sean Payton.
While 15 backs have rushed for more yards in a game, none has ever run for so many yards more efficiently.
Williams needed 40 carries to post his career day. Ivory got his yards on 15 stunningly efficient carries. His 10.5 yards-per-carry average is the best ever by a Saints back with 10 or more carries in a game.
"I thought he played solid," Saints coach Sean Payton said in typical understatement. "Obviously, he runs hard. He's a work in progress right now ... but he just keeps getting better."
The soft-spoken Ivory isn't much for hype and hoopla. He's more comfortable with the ball in his hands than with a microphone in his face. He prefers to let his powerful runs do the talking for him.
"It feels good," Ivory said. "I'm just trying to improve every day. The line did a great job, and I think I did better on some key reads today."
This past week was especially difficult for Ivory. A pending felony charge from a year-old incident at Washington State University surfaced and made headlines. Not the kind of publicity an undrafted rookie with little job security wants, especially someone who's fumbled twice in limited action this season.
On Sunday, Ivory made news of the positive variety.
Drew Brees' long touchdown passes to Lance Moore and Robert Meachem will lead the highlight reels, but it's Ivory's explosive runs that will draw the attention of opponents.
The Saints haven't had a back with this combination of size and speed since the inimitable McAllister suited up.
On the Saints' first snap from scrimmage, Ivory took the handoff, found no daylight, reversed field and outraced a handful of Buccaneers to the edge. Men that weigh 220 pounds aren't supposed to own that kind of speed and burst. The 18-yard gain was a tone-setter.
The Saints' longest run in their first five games covered 14 yards. In 15 carries against the Bucs, Ivory had runs of 33, 27, 18 and 16 yards as the Saints' amassed a season-high 212 yards on the ground.
"He's something like a beast," left guard Carl Nicks said. "He showed that in preseason. He's more than capable of doing what he did today all the time. I thought he was amazing."
The league might not have seen this coming, but Ivory's teammates and coaches did. He's been the talk of camp since he stepped on the practice field back in the spring.
"Oh, he's good, he's good. He's going to be special," linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. "He's physical, fast; he's strong; and he runs low with his pads."
"You've seen stuff in practice," fullback Heath Evans said. "You see glimpses of this burst that he has, and of the strength to carry it like he did today and to break tackles. We know he can carry the ball; we just got to get him to continue to work on his other details. ... He could be an elite back."
Jabari Greer was more succinct: "That guy -- ballin'!"
The same could be said for the offensive line, which, for the first time this season, turned in the kind of performance Saints fans have come to expect in recent years.
The front five had been under fire after an inconsistent start to the season. Last year, they were honored as the best unit in the league. This year, they've been called out for an inordinate number of penalties and their role in the Saints' heretofore 31st-ranked rushing attack.
On Sunday, the Saints' line dominated for four quarters.
"Our first three plays were runs," Nicks said. "We wanted to come out of the box and send a clear message. We absolutely did that today."
So, too, did Ivory.
Even when Bush and Thomas come back, he needs to be on the field. He's too talented to stand on the sideline.
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