Bush creates another dimension
ST. LOUIS -- Reggie Bush talked about how thrilled he was to get another victory Sunday. He painted the New Orleans Saints' 28-23 win over the St. Louis Rams as a testament to resilience and perseverance, the kind of effort great teams produce in the clutch. But what Bush didn't have to say was how vindicated he must have been feeling after the contest. That's because anybody who watched it saw just how valuable the fourth-year running back can still be to the NFL's hottest team.
On a day when the Saints struggled to keep their perfect record intact, Bush produced exactly the kind of spark his team needed. He ran for 83 yards on only six carries. He scored the second of his two touchdowns by catching a short crossing pattern and diving into the end zone for a 15-yard score. Bush's teammates spent most of the afternoon trying to shake the funk that can come with playing a one-win team on the road. Meanwhile, Bush came ready to play from the moment the game kicked off.
The significance of this can't be overlooked. Bush was starting to vanish from the most potent offense in the NFL, as he hadn't had more than 10 touches on offense (rushing attempts and receptions) since a 27-7 win over Buffalo on Sept. 27. Against the Rams, Bush found the perfect time to remind people of his potential.
"I think he played very well," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "He had some big plays, some big runs and some explosive plays. I thought he played one of his better games today."
Bush set the tone for the Saints when he raced 16 yards around right end on the team's second offensive play. It was a run that didn't just highlight Bush's trademark quickness. It also showcased the kind of power that has rarely been seen from him. After slamming into Rams linebacker Paris Lenon, the 6-foot, 203-pound Bush returned to the huddle, while St. Louis trainers helped the 6-2, 235-pound Lenon to the sideline.
Bush was equally spectacular when he dashed 55 yards midway through the third quarter. Though he couldn't reach the end zone -- the play ended with him tackled at the Rams' 22-yard line -- he did leave the impression that he'll play a bigger role in this offense in the coming weeks. Remember, the Saints jumped off to a 9-0 start partly because they built their running game around the hard-charging talents of Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell. Now it seems that Bush can be a productive change-of-pace weapon in Payton's arsenal.
In fact, Bush emphasized that his decreased opportunities have more to do with circumstances than anything else.
"What you're seeing is a lot of talent at the running back position, and throughout the entire team," he said. "We've seen what all the backs can do, and I really think we've got the best running back corps in the league. Any one of us could have a 100-yard day. But we also don't need to have a guy carrying the ball 30 times a game to be successful."
It's easy for Bush to point to his teammates as the explanation for his limited role. What he couldn't do, however, was admit any frustration with the way his season has unfolded. Bush is still the same guy who came into the NFL as the second overall pick in the 2006 draft, a player who was considered capable of terrorizing the league with his breathtaking speed and quickness. Since then, Bush has provided ample ammunition for those who believe he was overrated from the start.
It's not that Bush hasn't had his moments. He had 88 receptions in his rookie season and also had that electric night in Minnesota last year, when he returned two punts for touchdowns and nearly scored on a third.
But those plays haven't been nearly as memorable as Bush's failings. For every highlight he's produced, there have been two or three other moments when he has proved why he can't be an every-down back.
The question of durability has also dogged Bush of late, as knee injuries have cost him 10 games over the past two seasons. He has undergone two operations on his left knee since last October, including a microfracture surgery in January.
"Coach is aware that I'm coming off a big injury," Bush said. "And he wasn't going to put too much on me early on. Now you can see that my body is still fresh. That's important, because this game is about longevity."
Bush suggested that his time on the sideline should bode well for his usefulness in the second half. He also believes that opposing defenses are presenting him with more opportunities because of all the weapons the Saints have. For example, the Rams often used a nickel package to defend New Orleans when Bush lined up in the backfield. In response, the Saints ran the ball at the smaller unit and opened up both of Bush's big runs.
We'll see what happens in the coming weeks. The Saints surely aren't going to move away from the successful tandem of Thomas and Bell, and they're still going to throw as much as possible. But they also have one more reason to feel excited about what has been a dream season so far. That's because they can still expect Reggie Bush to be a difference-maker in the offense.
Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.