Saints win the opener

Published 3:37 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2006

No zig-zagging runs to daylight. No breathtaking swan dives into the end zone. No jawdropping jukes. Reggie Bush didn’t do anything extraordinary in his first NFL game.

Spectacular will come soon enough.

But in his pro debut, Bush was a winner — and that’s all that mattered to him and the New Orleans Saints.

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The super-hyped, Heisman Trophy-winning rookie running back accounted for 141 total yards, new quarterback Drew Brees made enough big plays and Deuce McAllister rushed for 90 yards to lead the revamped Saints to a 19-14 season-opening win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Getting more touches than he imagined, Bush ran 14 times for 61 yards, caught eight passes for 58, and returned three punts for 22 yards as the Saints began a season they hope goes better than the last one.

Bush never got loose on one of the trademark breakaways he made commonplace while at Southern California, and a few times he would have been better off falling down than trying to escape tacklers.

“I just wanted us to get a win,” Bush said. “I wasn’t focused on anything else. This was a perfect first step.”

John Carney kicked four field goals, the last with 5:42 remaining, and Brees, who signed a six-year, $60 million free agent contract in March, threw a 12-yard TD pass to rookie Marques Colston in the third quarter.

McAllister, who missed 11 games last season after undergoing knee surgery, made some nice cuts and powered through holes — another positive sign for the Saints, who went 3-13 and were uprooted by Hurricane Katrina last season.

“It’s a ’W,”’ said McAllister. “But we can’t get too high because we won our opener last year and then the bottom fell out.”

The Saints didn’t clinch rookie coach Sean Payton’s first win until the final two minutes, when safety Josh Bullocks intercepted a pass that deflected off the hands of receiver Braylon Edwards.

It was a painful and somewhat fitting ending for the Browns, who opened their 60th season with an uninspired, ugly effort. On their first offensive play, Edwards got behind the Saints defense for a 74-yard TD reception that got called back by a holding penalty on new left tackle Jeff Shaffer.

“The first play described the whole game,” Browns tight end Kellen Winslow said.

The Browns fell to 1-7 in season openers since returning to the league in 1999, and coach Romeo Crennel was short with the media during his postgame news conference.

“We felt we would play better than how we played,” Crennel said. “We did not play very well on either side of the ball, and especially when we had some penalties in the first half.”

Cleveland was held to 56 total yards and blanked in the first 30 minutes. But the Browns came back as Charlie Frye threw an 18-yard TD pass to Winslow, and the second-year quarterback scored on a 1-yard sneak to bring Cleveland within 16-14 with 11:20 to go.

The Saints, though, marched down for Carney’s fourth kick and then held off Cleveland’s rally.

Brees finished 17-of-31 for 176 yards with one interception. Frye, making his sixth career start, was 16-of-27 for 132 yards with the TD and two picks. His scrambling — he led the Browns with 44 yards — helped Cleveland get back in it after halftime.

Winslow looked fully recovered after missing 30 games the past two seasons and had eight catches for 63 yards. After scoring his first career TD, Winslow, who was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident last year, sprinted to the sideline and gave an emotional hug to head trainer Marty Lauzon. The pair had spent countless hours together in rehab.

“It felt great,” Winslow said. “All the hard work I have put in the last two years, it felt good to get back in the end zone.”

Bush made some rookie mistakes early. He misjudged a punt, retreating when it sailed over his head. He also dropped a third-down pass near the 5 that he might have scored on, and the 21-year-old had other moments where he tried to do too much.

“He has something to prove to everybody in this league and he wants to be the best,” wide receiver Joe Horn said. “I think he did very well for just starting out. A lot of people wanted to see No. 25 in a real fight, and they were able to see it.”

Notes: Browns WR Joe Jurevicius didn’t return to the sideline after hurting his ribs in the first half. … FB Mike Karney (right calf) and Keith Joseph (right knee) were the notable Saints injuries. … Hank Fraley started for the Browns, who acquired the center in a recent trade with Philadelphia after going through four centers in training camp. … Cleveland had only 186 total yards.