CHARLOTTE, N.C. – With running back Reggie Bush expected to sit out next weekend's game against the San Diego Chargers in London, you have to wonder if the New Orleans Saints' offense will also be missing across the Atlantic.
On Sunday, Bush's absence after halftime led to New Orleans' worst performance of the season during a 30-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers. While it's hard to say that Bush's nagging left knee injury (possible an ailing meniscus) was the only reason for the swoon, it certainly didn't help as any semblance of balance was gone
"What Reggie does is force the defense to declare what it's going to do against us a lot earlier," running back Deuce McAllister said. "When he's in there, they have to show you right away, are they playing base or are they nickel. They can't just change at the last second. They have to really show it and that gives us so much more information on how to attack them.
"You give [quarterback] Drew [Brees] that much more time and he's going to pick people apart. … For me, it's even better if we're out there together because I'll never see an eight-man front with him out there. Never, and that means I'm running downhill right away."
While Bush is not a true I-formation-type runner, he stretches defenses in ways that open opportunities for others. Over the first six games of the season, Brees had thrown for at least 320 yards five times even though the Saints were without tight end Jeremy Shockey and wide receiver Marques Colston.
Both Shockey and Colston returned to the lineup this week, but were largely non-factors or simply negatives (Shockey had a fumble when he was stripped by Carolina's Julius Peppers). Thus, despite the additions in the receiving corps, Brees was held to a season-worst performance as he completed 21 of 39 for 231 yards and an interception.
Brees tried not to blame the situation on Bush's absence but admitted the game was "tough" once Bush was gone. Bush came in as the team's leading receiver with 41 receptions.
"Of course it's tough because he's a playmaker," Brees said. "But we went the last four games last year without him and obviously we've been in situations without Shocky this year and without Colston, some of our big-play guys, and I feel like we haven't skipped a beat. Of course, we're going to miss him."
Bush, who limped off the field late in the first half, is likely to undergo surgery.
"The plan is to scope it,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. "We'll have this week and then the bye week and we'll see where he's at."
While New Orleans had great success last season when Bush was injured, the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft has been impressive this season, living up to much of the hype that preceded his coming to the NFL. As expected, he's been a multi-faceted threat: scoring touchdowns on runs (2), catches (3) and punt returns (3).
Pretty impressive for a guy who some people, such as ESPN's Tom Jackson, have compared favorably with Hall of Famer Gale Sayers.
On Sunday, Bush helped set up New Orleans' only touchdown and a short-lived 7-3 lead early in the second quarter with some effective outside running. Bush broke a 29-yard run on the first play of the drive and accounted for 42 of the team's 78 yards on the drive.
"That's what Reggie can do," Brees said of the 29-yard run. "You get him on the edge, he makes one guy miss and all of a sudden you have a huge play that changes the momentum."
Or as McAllister put it: "If you're going to be an explosive offense, you need that."