NEWORLEANS - Reggie Bush's playoff encore didn't have to be dazzling for New Orleans to get to its first Super Bowl.
Bush couldn't quite match his game-breaking performance from the Saints' 45-14 victory over Arizona a week earlier -- his punt returning hurt more than it helped because of a muffed punt. But he scored a key touchdown and had a big catch to sustain another scoring drive in New Orleans' 31-28 win Sunday night.
'You know what? It's a team game and that's one of the things that I'm learning slowly but surely,' Bush said. 'I can't just try to put the team on my back and win the game. It's not like the college days or the high school days. Not every game am I going to be the star.'
Bush scored a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a third-and-goal play from the 5, catching a short pass along the sideline, then twisting and muscling his way to the pylon to give the Saints a 28-21 lead.
'We opportunities come you make the most of it,' Bush said. 'I had a chance to bounce back, had a touchdown that was huge for us. It was the last touchdown we scored and it's a tremendous feeling just to be a part of this.'
Bush had two catches for 33 yards and seven rushes for only 8 yards and no punt return yards.
Still, the Saints might not have pulled out the biggest triumph in club history if not for Bush's score. Had he been short of the goal line, the Saints would have been faced with fourth-and-goal.
Instead, New Orleans never trailed again and now Bush will get another chance to showcase his game-break, big-play ability on the NFL's biggest stage in Miami in a couple weeks.
Bush's desire to recreate his magic of a week earlier was never more apparent than on his muffed punt that could have cost the Saints dearly. Bush said he should have fair caught it on the 10.
Instead, he tried to catch the punt and make a move on Eric Frampton. Frampton hit him straight on and jarred the ball loose. Kenny Onatolu recovered, putting Minnesota in prime position to take a lead into halftime.
Bush said that when Chris Kluwe first hit that punt, it did not appear that the Vikings' coverage team got off the line of scrimmage well.
'By the time I caught it I looked and he was right there in my face,' Bush said. 'It's a game of inches. ... I was thinking, obviously it wasn't meant to be, just try to bounce back. Do whatever you can, just don't overdo it.'
Brett Favre's fumble on a botched exchange meant for Adrian Peterson, which linebacker Scott Fujita recovered, spared the Saints any damage from Bush's gaffe.
After returning a punt 83 yards for a score against Arizona, Bush's only attempted punt return was the one he muffed.
'Obviously the turnover is a bad mark on the day, but you look at his whole body of work and that touchdown he made, just what he brought to this team -- he's one of those dynamic players that a defense really has to account for,' Saints right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said.
Saints coach Sean Payton did not call Bush's number much early on. Bush looked anxious, and Payton motioned at him to settle down during the first half.
'It's part of football. You're going to have differences of opinions with your coaches. It's an emotional game. He wants to win. I want to win,' Bush said.
Bush only touched the ball twice on the Saints' first four possessions, but the second time he got the ball came on a 28-yard reception over the middle on third-and-long, sustaining a 64-yard scoring drive capped by Devery Henderson's 9-yard TD pass, which tied the score at 14 in the second quarter.
'This was special, but it will be even more special if we win the Super Bowl,' Bush said, adding that he's taken a valuable lesson out of his varying performances the past two weeks.
'Just let it come to you. When it's your time, it's your time. Don't try to overdo it,' Bush said, reflecting back on his muffed punt. 'You can bet 100 percent that it won't happen again in the Super Bowl.'
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserve