Reggie Bush Finally Speaks Softly, Carries Big Stick
There was a time when his teammates might have wanted to turn that bat on him.
Bush entered the NFL as a rookie four seasons ago from Southern California a little full of himself, his teammates said. He was cocky and believed he was already a star -- a little above it all and a little above them, they thought. It was Saints quarterback Drew Brees who put his arm around Bush and let him know that certain things were expected of an NFL teammate. That certain participation and work habits and, most of all, respect and a blend-in-feel were critical to Bush's success here. And to that of the Saints.
Finally healed from injuries that slowed him terribly a year ago, and matured from his earliest NFL days where he distanced himself, Bush set about separating from the pack in a different way. In an accepted way.
In a rare way.
The Saints fans milked each moment.
Their team was not a farce. It was, indeed, the same group that raced to a 13-0 record and looked so invincible before dropping their last three regular-season games. The hand-wringing was done. The head-scratching was over.
No Cardinals threat scared them, not even the game's first play from scrimmage when running back Tim Hightower bolted 70 yards on a gashing run up the middle that gave Arizona a 7-0 lead only 19 seconds in. The Saints answered with a dreamy 10-play drive and score that tied the game at 7-7. Then Arizona was stripped of the ball on its next possession -- Saints cornerback Randall Gay forced the turnover on receiver Jerheme Urban and the Saints recovered. The Saints would score 14 straight after that to lead 21-7, with Bush's whirlwind touchdown run capping that New Orleans' spurt late in the first quarter.
And he would finish this game's scoring with his electric punt return for a touchdown late in the third quarter.
Cardinals waxed. Cardinals blown to pieces.
Bush was the dynamite.
"He played well for them today,'' Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "You know that he's a threat and you try to do the best you can to contain him, but when he gets into the open field, and you miss a tackle, he made us pay for that.''
The Cardinals lost three defensive starters in the game. Safety Antrel Rolle (concussion), cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (knee) and defensive tackle Gabe Watson (knee) all left and failed to re-enter, with Rolle and Rodgers-Cromartie out early. That killed the Cardinals defense nearly as much as Bush did.
Saints receiver Marcus Colston (6 catches, 83 yards, 1 touchdown) proved a testy matchup for the Cardinals. Against that depleted Cardinals secondary, the Saints ran a second-quarter flea-flicker pass that further exposed the Cardinals. It finished with a Devery Henderson touchdown catch of 44 yards that left cornerback Bryant McFadden bewildered. The Saints kept showing their versatility on offense, their multiple looks and multiple combinations of talent, and it led to two rushing touchdowns, three passing ones, the punt return score and a field goal.
Bush was often in the mix of it.
Payton had challenged Bush to be ready for these playoffs. Payton had told Bush that he knew he had not been fully healthy for much of this season, but that he looked healthy now and would be getting the ball in this game -- a lot.
Bush counted on that.
"This is something that just happened,'' Bush said. "It was something bound to happen if I kept getting that rock.''
And bringing the wood. Bat and all.
"I think Reggie did everything he was asked to do today,'' Brees said. "He ran tough. He ran hard.''
Saints running back Lynell Hamilton said: "I think each guy on our team took it personal the way we were being described as a team that had already peaked. I think Reggie really took it personally. He looked like Reggie being Reggie today.''
He looked quicker and faster and healthier.
He looked stronger.
"I know I'm not one known for being the biggest hitter or taking the hardest hits, but I can do both,'' Bush said. "On my touchdown run, they hit me hard and thought I was just going down. I was able to keep my feet underneath me, and I don't know what they were doing after that. And once I got past that bunch, it was all open field ahead of me.
"I understand that I am a leader of this team. I know that I can relate to anyone. I know big-time players make big-time plays in big games. I had the opportunity [Saturday]. I don't think I have ever lost my swagger. I believe in my ability. And we have so many guys who can open things up on this team.''
But only one can do it like Reggie Bush can.
Saturday, he carried a big stick. And there was nothing soft or selfish about it.