NEW ORLEANS -- Who dat say that Reggie Bush is overrated?
Truth: A lot of people. Bush knows it. He's heard it. He's lived it.
|Reggie Bush, trailed here by Deuce McAllister, is a home-run threat on any given play. (AP)|
Those skills were on display Saturday at the Superdome as Bush helped the Saints to a 45-14 rout of the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC divisional playoff round. He turned the night into his I'll-show-you game, ripping off a 46-yard touchdown run and taking a punt back 83 yards for a score.
It's the new version of The Bush Push, his chance to show all the doubters they were wrong.
"It's been awhile since I felt this good," Bush said after the game.
He meant physically. But you can bet he meant mentally as well, after all the questions about his ability since entering the league as the No. 2 overall pick in 2006.
Bush has been plagued by injuries his entire time with the Saints, suffering a knee injury last year that required micro-fracture surgery. Bush admitted after Saturday's game that he hadn't felt good at all this season, which is why he was limited to eight starts.
"Coming off the injury I had last year, you never fully feel yourself until about a year [after the surgery]," Bush said. "I was nursing an injury for the first part of the season. Our goal was to get me to the postseason."
On Saturday, Bush finished with 84 rushing yards on five carries, caught four passes for 24 yards and returned three punts for 109 yards. Those numbers aren't as pretty as they looked in getting them.
This was the USC Reggie Bush who would rip off long runs with just one plant of his foot. This was the Bush who ran inside, which is something many wondered if he could do in the NFL.
Bush's 46-yard scoring dash came right between the tackles. It was a tough run that turned into an explosive run.
The playoffs call for toughness and the Saints played that way all day, but seeing Bush do it had to motivate his teammates. Let's face it, you wouldn't exactly think he was the grind-it type. He's always been known as an air runner.
This was different. That's why he decided to run onto the field before the game with a baseball bat in his hand, raised for all to see. Saints coach Sean Payton gave every player a bat at the team meeting Friday night. The message was simple: This was going to be a tough-guy game.
The black bats all had an inscription on the end. It had the date and the opponent, but it also read: Bring the Wood.
"I brought the bat out because it represented to me who we are, and who we were going to be today," Bush said.
"I wanted a reminder, every time I came to sideline, to continue to be aggressive. I brought it out on my own."
That motivational strategy is something Payton has used before. It might seem hokey, but the players seemed to buy in for this game. The Saints were clearly the more physical team.
It's not always that way with a pass-first offense, which has earned the Saints a finesse label. That's why Bush's hard inside running helped get the team going. When he ran for 7 yards on a first-quarter run, he jumped up and looked ready for more after the tackle. This was clearly a different player than the one we saw for most of the 2009 season.
"He's as healthy as he's been," Payton said. "He was something today."
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When Bush came out of USC in 2006, the idea was that he would bring a special dynamic to Saints offense, with big play after big play. So far, injuries have hurt that production.
For his career, Bush has only 6 more rushing yards than receiving yards, giving credence to the idea that he is more receiver than runner. It also led to the criticism. This is the Heisman Trophy winner?
The Saints signed longtime running back Deuce McAllister to their active roster this week as a ceremonial gesture. But McAllister was front and center for Bush's first three years. He's seen the abuse that Bush has taken up close and watched him handle it.
"It's definitely been tough," McAllister said. "I think a lot if it is the hype of the media and the building him up. To be the No. 2 pick and people expecting Heisman-type numbers, there's a lot of pressure on him. All he can do is be himself and understand the job he has to do. We've seen a lot of this in practice, and for him to be able to translate it to the game field is a great feeling for him."
The lack of big numbers has actually led to questions about whether Bush will be on the roster next season. He is scheduled to make $8 million in base salary in 2010. Let's face it, that's pricey for the numbers he's put up.
But seeing what he did Saturday against the Cardinals now that he's healthy should alleviate any doubts about whether he will be back. Bush also earned $200,000 extra for the victory, thanks to a contract incentive. He can earn another $400,000 for winning each of the next two games.
That's chump change compared to the real currency he's fighting for: credibility.
"Big-time players make big-time plays in games like this," Bush said.
Is he a big-time player? Before Saturday, the answer might have been no. Now it's not so easy.
Overrated, over-hyped or just over-analyzed? Or the prototype back for this wide-open NFL?
For one day at least it looked like the latter.