|Reggie Bush packing punch Saints long expected from him|
|Updated 1/18/2010 6:23 PM ET|
Then Bush delivered his own Reggie Jackson postseason impersonation that elicited Superdome chants of "REGGIE! REGGIE!"
The 2006 Heisman Trophy winner out of Southern California tagged the Arizona Cardinals for a pair of long-distance, home-run touchdowns that helped key a 45-14, divisional-round demolition of last year's Super Bowl runners-up.PHOTOS: Divisional playoffs highlights ROAD TO THE SUPER BOWL: Results, schedule
What Bush called his "best postseason performance" has New Orleans hosting the NFC championship game on Jan. 24 — against the Minnesota Vikings— for the first time in the franchise's 43-year existence.
"He played like a slugger," Saints safety Darren Sharper said.
The Saints came out swinging just as coach Sean Payton hoped when he presented each player with a black baseball bat inscribed with the mantra, "Bring the Wood" the day before their playoff opener.
"I brought the bat out because it represented to me who we are and who we were going to be all day," Bush said. "I wanted a reminder, every time I came to the sideline to continue to be physical and aggressive."
Bush used fresh legs to carve up a Cardinals defense that surrendered 90 combined points in a 51-45 overtime wild-card win against Green Bay and in their elimination loss against the Saints.
Bush spun off nickel back Michael Adams for a 46-yard, first-quarter touchdown run, the longest in Saints postseason history. Then, he electrified the Superdome with an 83-yard, third-quarter punt return score.
Bush's 217 all-purpose yards came on 12 touches, exactly the type of difference-making performance the Saints envisioned when they drafted the Heisman winner with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft.
"These type of games are … what you work all year long for in the offseason, training camp and throughout the season," Bush said. "Big-time players make big-time plays in games like this.
"I just tried to make the most of it every time I had the ball in my hands."
Bush was the poster boy for Payton's strategy to rest his banged-up starters while some wondered whether they could recapture momentum after closing the regular season with thee consecutive losses following a 13-0 start.
Payton said he challenged Bush "a few months ago" to step up and be healthy for the postseason.
Bush finally delivered.
"He's as healthy as he's been," Payton said. "You saw it not only on the punt return but on the big touchdown run. He's a dynamic player."
Bush ran with decisiveness, power and an extra gear in the open field.
And when he settled under Ben Graham's third-quarter punt, he darted to the middle of the field, made one cut and exploded to the end zone.
"Reggie really played well," general manager Mickey Loomis said. "A lot of us had a hunch he might have a good game. He's healthy. He had several opportunities to make big plays and he did."
Saints all-time rushing leader Deuce McAllister was proud of how Bush elevated on the postseason crucible.
"You're happy for him," McAllister said. "It's definitely been tough on him. The hype, the media buildup, being the No. 2 overall pick, people were expecting the Heisman-type numbers. There was a lot of pressure on him."
Bush never looked more comfortable than in the postseason crucible.
"I was nursing a (micro-fracture knee) injury for the first part of this season," he said.
His timely re-emergence prompted Payton to embrace Bush afterward.
"I don't want to admit it, but yeah, he did give me a kiss," Bush laughed.
He was finally everything Payton and the Saints had hoped.
"He's been through a lot of ups and downs," McAllister said. "And for him to have the type of game he did was special."
|Posted 1/17/2010 10:56 PM ET|
|Updated 1/18/2010 6:23 PM ET|