Bush Shows The Critics Something

Jason Campbell goes deep to find Santana Moss for a 67-yard touchdown as the Redskins take the lead from New Orleans late in the game and hold on for a 29-24 victory.
By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 15, 2008

Before the season, New Orleans Saints star running back Reggie Bush heard some of the talk around the league about him.

Critics were pointing to Bush's poor preseason rushing average and his relative lack of productivity in his first two seasons as a pro, and questioned whether the Heisman Trophy winner would or could live up to the hype surrounding him when he entered the NFL in 2006. But Bush said he wasn't fazed by that criticism.

"Obviously, I heard some of it," Bush said. But he "used it as motivation more than anything. I never let any criticism get to me. I always just try to use it as motivation to come back even stronger."

And after a tantalizing Week 1 of the new season in which he amassed more than 150 yards of offense and scored a highlight-reel, go-ahead touchdown, Bush again showcased his game-breaking ability yesterday in the Saints' 29-24 loss to the Washington Redskins, returning a punt 55 yards for a touchdown to give New Orleans a nine-point lead entering the fourth quarter.

"The punt return was a big play for us and it's a shame that that didn't lead to a win," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "But at that point in the game you felt that momentum on our side."

Bush's return was one of the few positives to take away from the game for New Orleans, which, despite being unable to hold on to the lead, once again received a stellar performance from its star back, who finished with 146 total yards and a touchdown.

"Any time the ball's in his hands it's exciting to watch him," Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey said. "I know the defense must hate it because he's such a playmaker. He really gave us a chance to win the game this week and I think other people have to step up."

Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache praised Bush's playmaking ability in the week leading up to the game, calling him "one of the most exciting people I've seen in my 20 years in the league."

But before the punt return, the Redskins had limited Bush's impact on the game.

In the first half, Bush was held to 19 yards rushing on seven carries. And though he played a pivotal role in the Saints' drive at the end of the half to set up Martín Gramatica's go-ahead 49-yard field goal, accounting for 37 of the Saints' 59 yards, his overall influence had been relatively minor.

"They did a good job defensively, Greg Blache and their staff, of really containing him and taking away some of the things that we wanted to do," Payton said.

But with the Saints leading by two points late in the third quarter, Bush showcased his ability to change the game.

With 19 seconds left in the quarter, Bush settled under a Durant Brooks punt at the Saints 45-yard line, set up a lane and bolted untouched down the left sideline for the touchdown.

"It was a short kick, it wasn't that great of a kick by the punter, and I ran up on it, caught it and just tried to set it up to where I could get back around the wall," Bush said. "And we did, and it was a huge play for us at the time."

Bush was flagged for a 15-yard penalty on the return for taunting after he pointed at the Redskins pursuing him.

"I knew at the time, after I did it, I shouldn't have done that," Bush said. "But sometimes you get caught up in the hype of a big play and you just really got to focus and not make those mistakes."

The Saints were unable to capitalize on the momentum and struggled to find any rhythm offensively. After the game, Bush said he felt the Saints were unable to establish a consistent ground attack and may have been too conservative late in the game.

"We've got to make more plays down the stretch, and I feel like maybe we went into our prevent offense when we could have been attacking more, maybe," Bush said. "But you can sit up here and make a million excuses why we didn't win the game. The fact of the matter is we didn't win the game, and that's why we're sitting here with a loss."

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