NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Call him Reggie "The Bruiser" Bush.
People know the flashy Heisman Trophy winner out of Southern Cal
by all those highlights of him cutting, spinning and sprinting away
from people in the open field.
Yet it was his underrated power and grit that turned a day of
frustration into one of celebration for the New Orleans Saints.
His legs churning and body squirming as three Atlanta tacklers
met him around the 2-yard line, Bush spun free and dived across the
goal line on a crucial third-and-goal screen pass. His touchdown
lifted New Orleans to a 22-16 victory over the Falcons on Sunday.
"How about Reggie Bush today? That was unbelievable," Saints
linebacker Scott Fujita said. "You hear about all the [flack] he's
taken from people for not being able to run downhill ... but that
guy competes more than many people I've ever seen in the league.
There was no chance he wasn't going to score on that."
Bush threw the ball into the second deck of the Louisiana
Superdome after the score. While fans chanted "REG-GIE, REG-GIE"
in celebration, Bush took a handoff on a 2-point conversion, raced
to the sideline and dived for the pylon to put the Saints (2-4) up
by six points with 5:04 remaining.
"I was just excited to make a play for my team. We struggled
throughout the game. We really didn't have the game we wanted to,"
Bush said. "I just kept fighting, kept my feet moving and refused
to go down."
When the Falcons punted with under 2 minutes to go and all of
their timeouts left, Bush clinched the game with 7-yard first-down
run, allowing the Saints to run out the clock.
Bush finished with only 54 yards rushing and 19 yards receiving
on a difficult day during which New Orleans' offense often
sputtered. He also had several good gains called back by penalties.
Atlanta (1-6) lost more than a game. Its newest starting
quarterback, Byron Leftwich, left with what coach Bobby Petrino
said was a high ankle sprain after Saints defensive end Will Smith
brought him down on a long incompletion early in the third quarter.
Joey Harrington, the starter until a loss to the New York Giants
a week earlier, finished the game, going 12-of-18 for 128 yards. He
led one scoring drive, which ended with Morten Andersen's 21-yard
field goal to give Atlanta a 16-14 lead with 10:19 left.
Leftwich, who was cut by Jacksonville shortly before the season,
completed 15 of 23 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown pass to
Roddy White. He also led a pair of scoring drives that ended with
Andersen field goals of 38 and 31 yards, giving the Falcons a 13-7
"I was happy with the way he performed," Petrino said. "He
was standing in there. He made good throws. The injury certainly
Leftwich, a courageous pocket passer who's been beat up
throughout his career, said after the game he did not know how long
he'd be out and was too upset to speak at length.
"It's really, really frustrating out there right now, man," he
began. "I'm sorry, but I just can't do this."
Pierre Thomas, an undrafted rookie who made the Saints' regular
season roster against long odds, scored on a darting,
tackle-breaking 24-yard run in the third quarter. Drew Brees gave
New Orleans an early 7-0 lead with a 37-yard touchdown pass over
the middle to Devery Henderson.
However, the Saints had only three first downs and ran only 14
plays on their first four drives combined.
A pair of Andersen field goals made it 7-6, then Leftwich gave
Atlanta a 13-7 lead with his 9-yard pass to White.
The Saints moved the ball on their final drive of the half, but
on fourth-and-2 from the Atlanta 34, coach Sean Payton kept his
offense on the field. As kicker Olindo Mare, who has struggled on
long field goals this season, watched from the sidelines, Brees
rolled out and threw his 10th interception of the season.
Brees recovered to finish 22-of-34 for 219 yards and two
touchdowns, including a clutch third-down slant pass to Marques Colston, who slipped a tackle for a 33-yard gain to the Atlanta 31
on the game-winning drive.
Saints starting center Jeff Faine missed most of the second
half with a left pectoral injury. ... Atlanta rookie left tackle
Renardo Foster had to be carted off the field with a left knee
injury in the fourth quarter. ... New Orleans fans booed Andersen,
a former Saint, when he lined up to kick 38- and 33-yard field
goals in the first half. The 47-year-old played for New Orleans
from 1982-94 and holds numerous Saints records, including scoring
(1,318) and field goals made (302). ... Joe Horn's first catch in
the Superdome since he left the Saints for the Falcons was an
11-yard reception in the second quarter. He also received a few
boos, finishing with three catches for 25 yards.