CLEVELAND -- A couple of things became evident as the New Orleans Saints put a whipping on the Cleveland Browns yesterday.
One, you can pencil in the two games against the woeful Browns as wins for the Steelers.
And two, the Steelers' defense could be in a little trouble when the Saints roll into Heinz Field in November.
By then, Reggie Bush will have figured out the NFL game.
"I'd give myself a 'B' today," Bush said after the Saints' 19-14 win.
The man is a tough grader.
Consider the heavy baggage Bush lugged into Cleveland Stadium. There was the pressure of being the NFL's most hyped rookie, the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner and a player many have said is the best to hit the league since Gale Sayers. There was the pressure of being the symbol of revitalization for the Saints and for Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. There was the pressure of trying to fit in with a Saints team that has its share of sizable egos in quarterback Drew Brees, running back Deuce McAllister and wide receiver Joe Horn. And there was the pressure of getting it done against an NFL-caliber defense -- "Everybody is faster, quicker and smarter than in college," Bush said, somewhat wide-eyed -- even if the Browns' defense isn't exactly a replica of Joey Porter and Co.
Bush carried all of the luggage with amazing grace.
"I wasn't surprised," Horn said afterward. "He's a damn Matrix. He's a beast, man."
Saints first-year coach Sean Payton used the versatile Bush in just about every way imaginable. He lined up Bush 25 times as a running back and 10 times as a wide receiver. On nine occasions, he put Bush and McAllister on the field together.
Bush's 14 carries produced 61 yards. His eight catches resulted in 58 yards. Add his three punt returns and he finished with 25 touches for 141 total yards.
You should be hoping you don't see Bush's "A" game when the Saints play the Steelers Nov. 12.
"We'd be remiss if we didn't try to put him in every possible position," Brees said. "Just get him the ball in space and let him do what he does best."
Cautioned Payton, "You have to be careful you don't try to do too much with him."
That's a tough temptation to fight ...
We pause here to wonder how angry the Houston Texans fans are this morning. Their team passed on Bush in the April draft, choosing North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams. Williams had two tackles and no sacks in the Texans' 24-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday.
They still can't believe that stroke of luck in New Orleans. Folks there expected Bush to be great yesterday, even if a big part of them figured some sort of misfortune would befell him now that he has joined what has been a cursed franchise, perennial losers who are coming off a 3-13 season in which they had to play their home games in San Antonio, Baton Rouge, La., and even the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J. What they couldn't have known was that Bush would be such a big man off the field. He jumped into his new community with both feet, giving his time and his money to the Katrina relief efforts, saving a high school athletic program here, rebuilding a high school football field there and willingly providing the emotional lift to a hurting city in a way only a sports star can do. He's going to get some ovation when the Saints finally return to the Louisiana Superdome Sept. 25 to play the Atlanta Falcons.
Bush also has worked hard to blend into the Saints' team picture. Don't hold his fancy black-and-gold shoes against him; they're a part of his multi-million-dollar endorsement deal with adidas and business is business, right? The man was nothing if not humble after the game. Other than passing out that "B" to himself -- "I didn't get in the end zone," he said, explaining why his efforts weren't worth an "A" -- he talked only about the team and its "huge" win.
"I'm just trying to establish myself in this offense," Bush said. "Whatever they ask me to do, I'll go out and do it."
That humility goes a long way toward explaining why McAllister, who could end up losing playing time and carries to Bush, said of the prized rook, "I'm there for Reggie to try to help him as much as I can."
The Browns were the perfect first opponent for Bush. Debuts in the NFL just don't come any easier. The Browns' offense put virtually no pressure on the Saints, going into its sixth series before getting its first first down just before the two-minute warning in the first half. The Browns rushed for 85 yards, 41 if you don't count quarterback Charlie Frye's six scrambles.
The second game also looks easy. The Saints go to Green Bay Sunday to play a Packers team that was whipped by the Chicago Bears yesterday. Then, there's that emotional Monday night home game against the Falcons.
Down the road, that game at Heinz Field.
"We haven't seen anything from Reggie yet," Saints center Jeff Faine said. "He just has so much upside. He's such an explosive player. It's going to be fun to watch him grow."
Fun for the Saints and their fans, sure. Maybe not so much fun for Troy Polamalu and Co.Andy Lyons, Getty Images
Saints running back Reggie Bush makes some moves against the Browns yesterday at Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland.
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1525.