Rookie Bush gives Saints hint of a brighter future

ON THE NFL

Monday Morning Qb

Gameday

September 11, 2006|By KEN MURRAY

In the unfiltered light of opening day, it was easy to see how Reggie Bush will help invigorate the New Orleans Saints' moribund franchise. It was not nearly as clear how - or even whether - Mario Williams will lift the Houston Texans from the NFL depths.

As openers go, these debuts lent more credence to the suspicion the Texans erred when they chose Williams, an athletic defense end, over Bush, a lightning rod at running back, receiver and on punt returns, with the first pick of the 2006 draft.

Week 1 went to Bush in a big way. Playing as backup to veteran Deuce McAllister, last year's Heisman Trophy winner generated 61 rushing yards, 58 receiving yards and 22 yards in punt returns in a 19-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

Bush's best run was a nifty 18-yard jaunt between the tackles in the first half. He read his blocks well, eluded a defender with his quickness and broke a tackle with his strength.

Bush may not get to the corner as easily in the NFL as he did at USC, but his impact as an offensive weapon was readily apparent. When he lined up at flanker, the Browns were forced to respect him as they would a star receiver.

Williams, drafted to give the Texans a defensive player who could change the game, never got close to Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb in a 24-10 Eagles win in Houston. The Eagles did, however, put two men on the rookie at times, showing a measure of respect, as well.

He finished with just three tackles in a game that looked a lot like the games the Texans played last season, when they earned the first pick. Williams still could become a game-changer, but it's hard to imagine he will affect a game as much as Bush.

The Saints' win also marked a successful debut for new coach Sean Payton, who moved Bush around the field creatively, and new quarterback Drew Brees (176 passing yards and one touchdown). In the tough NFC South, the Saints are not playoff primed. But at long last, their future looks good.

Falcons flex

Perhaps the biggest winners on opening day -- or at least the team that showed up the biggest -- were the Atlanta Falcons, who pummeled the favored Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, 20-6.

Sure, the Panthers missed star receiver Steve Smith (hamstring). But Smith doesn't play defense, and that's where Carolina was hurt the most. Led by Warrick Dunn's 132 yards, the Falcons gained 252 rushing yards on 47 attempts -- and only seven of those carries and 48 of those yards belonged to scrambling quarterback Michael Vick.

The Panthers couldn't run the ball (65 rushing yards), and never got into the end zone against Atlanta's rebuilt defense. Quarterback Jake Delhomme threw for 186 yards but was largely ineffective. The new defensive player who stood out for the Falcons was defensive end John Abraham, who alone makes the unit better.

Down and dirty

The best division in the AFC is unquestionably the North, where the Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals all opened with impressive wins. The Bengals won the division a year ago and played up (or down?) to their image in a 23-10 mugging of the Kansas City Chiefs.

After an offseason marred by eight player arrests, the Bengals showed an outlaw attitude in Kansas City, as well. Late in the third quarter, the Bengals' Robert Geathers, a third-year defensive end, knocked Chiefs quarterback Trent Green out of the game with a cheap shot that, incredibly, did not get flagged.

As Green dropped into a feet-first slide after running for a first down, Geathers lowered his shoulder and nailed the quarterback in the head and chest. There was an 11-minute delay to take Green off the field. And this came from a team that whined loudly when its franchise player, Carson Palmer, was injured in last season's playoffs.

Back to the future

As if the 2005 season was lost in a time warp, the Eagles went back to being the methodically solid, harmonious team they were before Terrell Owens tore the franchise asunder. Their two-touchdown victory over the Texans carried all the earmarks of coach Andy Reid's previous teams.

Donovan McNabb regained his Pro Bowl form in throwing for 314 yards. He threw touchdowns to three different receivers and Reid eschewed the run once again (in the first half he called eight runs to 19 passes). On defense, the Eagles sacked David Carr five times.

But the big difference really was new receiver Donte' Stallworth, who had a 42-yard touchdown reception against broken coverage, and a 37-yard catch to set up another touchdown. All told, Stallworth, acquired from the Saints in a late preseason trade, had six catches for 141 yards.

T.O. who?

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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