Saints turn to Bush to lead running game

THURSDAY, JAN. 6, 2011

New Orleans’ top 2 backs won’t be able to play against Hawks

METAIRIE, La. – Reggie Bush’s signature moment in his five seasons with the New Orleans Saints was last year’s NFC divisional playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals.

The Saints aren’t necessarily looking for that kind of performance in Saturday’s NFC wild-card game against the Seattle Seahawks.

They just need someone to carry the ball, and help take some of the load off Drew Brees.

The Saints (11-5) placed fourth-year running back Pierre Thomas on injured reserve Wednesday, one day before they part for the Pacific Northwest to play the Seahawks (7-9) at Qwest Field. The move comes one day after the Saints put their leading rusher, rookie Chris Ivory, on injured reserve, leaving the Saints scrambling at a crucial position, particularly in a cold, damp environment in which the Seahawks usually play.

Thomas, the Saints’ leading rusher last season, played in just six games this season because of a lingering ankle injury. He returned to play a big role in the Saints’ 17-14 victory over Atlanta in the Georgia Dome on Dec. 27, but was on the inactive list for Sunday’s regular-season finale against Tampa Bay.

“Pierre had a setback in practice,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. The Saints signed running back Joique Bell off the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad to fill the roster slot left open by Thomas’ departure. Bush and Julius Jones are expected to take the bulk of the snaps in Saturday’s game against the Seahawks. Running back DeShawn Wynn rejoined the Saints on Tuesday, when Ivory was put on IR.

Bush is a threat to take the ball the distance on any play and a versatile weapon in the passing game. In Sunday’s loss to the Bucs, he finished the game with 70 yards rushing.

“Obviously, I’m going to have to step up,” Bush said. “Not just me, but Julius Jones and DeShawn Wynn. I’m looking forward to (the opportunity), of course I am. At the end of the day, it’s a team effort, not just one man.”

Bush was sidelined with a broken fibula in the Saints’ victory over the San Francisco 49ers in September and didn’t return for two months. In last year’s 45-14 playoff victory over the Cardinals, however, Bush rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown on just five carries, and put the game away with an 83-yard punt return for a score midway through the fourth quarter.

“This doesn’t make it any easier,” Brees said. “Certainly we’re going to miss Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, but I’m confident in the other three guys that we have. I feel like Reggie Bush can do some special stuff (on the field).”

Payton said he will emphasize pass protection and picking up the blitz as much as anything with his reconfigured backfield, but Bush is an exceptional receiver and dangerous in the open field.

“A lot of teams are blitzing us now,” Saints offensive lineman Carl Nicks said.

The Seahawks are likely to follow suit on Saturday.

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