NEW ORLEANS -- Chris Ivory's college career was a bust.
The Saints gave him a chance anyway, and it is beginning to look like New Orleans may have plucked another exciting running back from the ranks of the undrafted.
Ivory turned a swing pass into a tackle-breaking, zigzagging, 76-yard score, and finished as both the game-high rusher and receiver in New Orleans' 36-21 preseason victory over the San Diego Chargers on Friday night.
"I know I've got to come out and work hard, open some eyes and just prove that I want to be here," Ivory said. "I'm trying to go hard every play so I can keep [coaches'] minds open and make this team."
The rookie rushed for 45 yards on 11 carries, with a long run of 16 yards. He turned his only catch into the longest reception in the game by bowling over defenders, making others miss and carrying one on his back across the goal line.
Essentially, he played like Pierre Thomas, who joined the Saints as an undrafted rookie in 2007.
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 such as being late to meetings and missing a practice. He finished his college career last year with an injury-plagued season at Division II Tiffin and wound up with a grand total of 757 yards rushing in four college seasons.
With his performance against San Diego coming after solid outings 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.
"He made a heck of a play on the catch for the touchdown," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "He just consistently has been able to get positive yards, but there's some things we've got to get corrected. That's somewhat to be expected. Certainly coming where he's coming from is a big step up."
"We had a lot of success early and drove the ball well," Gates said. "We accomplished exactly what we had to tonight."
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 an 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 put together two 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-yard run.
"Coming out on the first drive, it was as good as it gets," said Rivers, who finished 16 of 27. "We are playing against a good team out there, at their home. I really think we got what we wanted to get out of it."
Journeyman Billy Volek replaced Rivers in the third quarter and was intercepted by Usama Young on a deep pass. 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 one TD.
The Saints, who have led the NFL in offense in three of the past four seasons, finished with 552 yards.
Payton did not have any updates on Vilma's condition, but Vilma wrote, "I'll be fine," on his Twitter account. ... Saints reserve offensive tackle Zach Strief hurt his right knee, but the severity was not immediately known. ... Hartley was perfect on field goal attempts of 40, 27 and 35 yards. ... Volek was 9 of 21 for 97 yards. ... Mathews finished with 43 yards on 13 carries.