NEW ORLEANS Forget Reggie Bush's blazing speed and flashy moves. His underrated power and grit turned a day of frustration into one of celebration for the New Orleans Saints.
His feet churning and body squirming as three Atlanta tacklers met him on 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.
Bush threw the ball into the second deck of the Louisiana Superdome after the score. While fans chanted his name 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.
When the Falcons' next drive stalled, they punted with under 2 minutes to go and all of their timeouts left. Guess who clinched it with a first-down run two plays later?
Bush's 7-yard gain on second-and-6 allowed New Orleans 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 on holding penalties.
Atlanta (1-6) lost more than a game. Its newest starting quarterback, Byron Leftwich, left with an injured right ankle 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 for Atlanta, going 12-of-18 for 128 yards. He led one scoring drive, to Morten Andersen's 21-yard field goal that gave Atlanta a 16-14 lead with 10:19 left.
Leftwich, cut by Jacksonville shortly before the season, was performing well.
He completed 15 of 23 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown throw to Roddy White. He also led a pair of scoring drives that ended with Andersen's field goals of 38 and 31 yards, giving the Falcons a 13-7 halftime lead.
Pierre Thomas, an undrafted rookie, scored on a darting, tackle-breaking 24-yard run in the third quarter.
In the first quarter, Brees showed unwavering confidence in receiver Devery Henderson, a speedster plagued by drops this season and sporadically throughout his four years as a pro.
But when Henderson holds on to the ball, it's often a big play, and that's what the Saints got. Brees went to him on a 37-yard pass down the middle for a 7-0 lead.
The Saints' offense was otherwise anemic for most of the first half. New Orleans had three first downs and ran only 14 plays on its first four drives, three of which ended with punts. New Orleans had the ball for only 9:34 in the first half.
That allowed Atlanta, bolstered by good field position, to chip away as Leftwich became increasingly comfortable.
Andersen's two field goals made it 7-6, then Leftwich gave Atlanta a 13-7 lead with a 9-yard pass White late in the half. Leftwich completed four passes on the drive, including a key 20-yarder to Michael Jenkins on third-and-15.
The Saints, on fourth-and-2 from the Atlanta 34 at the end of the half, kept the offense on the field. As kicker Olindo Mare, who has struggled on long field goals this season, watched, Brees rolled out and threw his 10th interception of the season.
Brees recovered to finish 22-of-34 for 219 yards and two touchdowns. He hit a clutch third-down slant pass to Marques Colston, who slipped a tackle for a 33-yard gain to the Atlanta 31 on the winning drive.