AP Sports Writer
METAIRIE, La. (AP) - New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram doesn't see his dramatic spike in production as any sort of validation.
"Numbers and stats are really for everybody else," Ingram said after practice Tuesday. "You could have a great game and be effective for a team without having a major stat line. My main thing is just to go out there and be the best I can be and help us win games."
Last Sunday night, Ingram helped the Saints pound the Green Bay Packers with a huge stat line. He carried 24 times for a career-high 172 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown.
Now in his fourth season, Ingram is starting to put up the kind of numbers commensurate with the expectations often applied to a former Heisman Trophy winner who was drafted in the first round.
His 5.7 yards per carry leads all NFL running backs and is second overall, behind only Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, a scrambler is averaging 8.2 yards per run. Ingram is tied for fifth in the NFL with four rushing touchdowns, even though he missed three games earlier this season with a broken hand.
When asked what he thought of his latest outing, he started by crediting his teammates.
"The offensive line did a great job," Ingram said. "Running backs can't have a game like that without significant offensive line play."
Gracious as he was, Ingram didn't sell himself short, either.
"I didn't surprise myself at all," he said. "I've always known what I was capable of doing since Day One and always been confident of my abilities. I just had a good opportunity and wanted to take advantage of it."
Ingram, who also could play a central role in the offense Thursday night at Carolina, was selected 28th overall in 2011. Since then, he has been part of an offense known for running by committee, limiting his opportunities to carry a heavy load in the ground game. He's been further hampered by injuries, missing six games as a rookie and five games last season. In 2012, he played in 16 games, carrying 156 times for 602 yards and five TDs.
Quarterback Drew Brees said he always saw exceptional ability in Ingram, whom he called "the ultimate team player," and questioned the criticism the former Alabama running back received in the media during his first three seasons.
"The guy really hadn't had as much of an opportunity because he's been banged up at times and is just sharing the load with other guys," Brees said. "And so the minute this guy gets an opportunity to carry the load, 24 carries, he breaks out for a career high and proves all you guys wrong. But it's something that we all knew."
Right tackle Zach Strief said Ingram's improved production probably stems from increased chemistry with the offensive line - and better blocking.
"I think he is more confident. I think he really understands what we are doing upfront. He's made a lot of good reads for us this year," Strief said.
"Mark is excellent at running through and around guys," Strief added. "Last year, Mark took a lot of criticism early on and he didn't have anywhere to go. He didn't have anywhere to run the ball, so we weren't helping him out any. ... If we give him an opportunity to get on the second level, Mark can make a lot of plays for us."
NOTES: The Saints suspended reserve WR Joseph Morgan, but coach Sean Payton declined to say why or provide any details about the possible length of the suspension. ... With Morgan on the suspended-reserve list, the Saints re-signed TE Tom Crabtree, who had been signed to the roster each of the past two weeks, only to be cut shortly before each of the past two games.
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)