Saints dispel momentum argument

After Tim Hightower took the handoff and broke off a 70 yard touchdown run on the first play of the game on Saturday, you could almost hear the wheels turning in people’s heads.

The Saints, losers of three in a row entering Saturday’s Divisional playoff game, were about to fall victims to “Big Mo.”

But almost immediately after Hightower crossed the goal line, New Orleans reminded us of how good it was for most of the season. Drew Brees marched the Saints down to the 1-yard line on the ensuing possession and Lynell Hamilton capped the drive off with a 1-yard touchdown run. Then the Saints added a touchdown, then another, then two more before half to take a 35-14 lead.

All of a sudden, “Big Mo” was looking for a backdoor out of the Superdome to save himself from further embarrassment. The Saints added 10 more points in the second half to trounce Arizona 45-14 and set up a date with either the Cowboys or Vikings in the NFC Championship Game.

Momentum can be a crucial factor in sports. But talent, preparation and execution will win out every time. People forgot how explosive Sean Payton’s offense could be and how opportunistic Gregg Williams’ defense could be with a full complement of players. Save for Charles Grant, the Saints were almost completely healthy on the defensive side of the ball and it showed today, as they harassed Kurt Warner and held a Cardinal offense that scored 51 points last Sunday to just 14 on Saturday. They also forced two critical turnovers and could have added one more to that tally had the refs not called a cheap roughing the passer call after Darren Sharper intercepted Warner in the second quarter.

Even though they had lost their previous three games, don’t forget that Payton and his coaching staff had two weeks to prepare for the Cardinals. Teams with the top two seeds in the playoffs don’t just get an off week to rest up – they also get two full weeks to study their opponents’ weaknesses. The Saints proved today how valuable it is for teams to earn the No. 1 seed in the postseason.

Granted, New Orleans won’t be as fortunate to face a defense as bad as the one that took the field for the Cardinals over the past two weeks. But if Payton’s offense is clicking as well as it was today, then either the Cowboys or Vikings are going to have their hands full next Sunday.

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Bush torches Cardinals in Saints’ rout

This season hasn’t necessarily been kind to Reggie Bush. On his way to rushing for only 390 yards (his lowest of his career) and 335 passing yards (his lowest of his career), he was criticized for his lack of toughness and one-dimensional style of play.

On Saturday, Bush reminded everyone why some considered him the best athlete coming out of the 2006 NFL Draft. He rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown on just five carries, caught four passes for 24 yards and returned an 83-yard punt for a score in the Saints’ 45-14 rout of the Cardinals in the Divisional playoffs.

Bush ran with the kind of determination and toughness that he lacked all season. He was explosive, made spectacular cuts on the fast Superdome surface and took advantage of yet another brutal tacking effort by Arizona’s defense. He also ran north and south instead of trying to dance around at the line of scrimmage. There haven’t been too many times where I’ve seen Bush put his head down and run through a tackle like he did today.

When a team racks up 45 points and 418 yards of total offense, more than one player contributed in the success. Drew Brees completed 23 of 32 passes for 247 yards and threw for three touchdowns, while Pierre Thomas rushed for 52 yards on 13 carries and Marques Colston hauled in six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. Devery Henderson also chipped in 80 receiving yards and a touchdown on four catches, while Jeremy Shockey caught three passes for 36 yards and a touchdown.

But nobody ignited the Saints’ offense more than Bush. The move he made on an Arizona defender on his 46-yard touchdown run was sick and the burst he exhibited on his 83-yard punt return was impressive. He may not be able to consistently run between the tackles, but he proved his worth today.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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