Saints rushing game finally finds legs

A losswould have ended any realistic chances of the New Orleans Saintsmaking any push toward the postseason. So why not lean on one of theSaints' strengths.

Drew Brees shredded the Atlanta Falcons defense. David Patten playedlike he never had before. Aaron Stecker gave the Saints a reliablerunning threat.

None of it involved Reggie Bush, and the Saints' 34-14 win overAtlanta on Monday night has them still breathing in the NFCplayoff race.

And yes, Stecker's play in the Georgia Dome was a definite strength.

Stecker's performance may have been the most eye-popping for theSaints. He rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries, which averages out to astellar five yards per carry.

It's the first time since last year's NFC divisional playoff gameagainst Philadelphia in which a Saints tailback rushed for 100yards or more. The team ran for 145 yards on 30 carries and is now11-0 in the Sean Payton era when the Saints run the ball 30 or moretimes.

Patten pumped out single-game career highs in receptions with nineand yards with 122. The veteran also made a nice grab on a 25-yardscoring pass from Brees to give the Saints a 7-0 lead late in thefirst quarter.

Brees went 28-for-41 with 328 yards and three touchdowns and couldhave notched a fourth touchdown had Eric Johnson not dropped a suresix points early in the second quarter.

But there's little question as to what stuck out for the Saintsoffensively, with the pedestrian nature of the running game throughoutmuch of the team's first 13 games.

"I thought we ran the ball as well as we have all …," Saints coachSean Payton said as he stopped short of saying all season. "We had oneof the better games rushing than we've had all year."

Stecker and Pierre Thomas, who ran for 31 yards on six carries, racedthrough the Falcons for the team's most productive rushing game with145 total yards.

The Saints also piled up 476 yards of total offense without theirmost high-profiled weapon. Yet the decision to sideline Bush stillremains cloudy.

Do the Saints risk sitting Bush down for the rest of the seasonwithout knowing their playoff future and test their luck without him?Or do they wait until the team is officially eliminated from thepostseason race, which might not happen, and have one less roster spotavailable?

Payton said he'd give an update today about Bush, but never specifiedif a decision will be made.

The offense seemed to run smoother without Bush against a lacklusterFalcons squad as he stood on the sideline with an earpiece. When askedif the offensive game plan is simpler without Bush, though, Paytonsaid it's never simple.

"The team's better off with Reggie Bush and with Deuce McAllister,all right?" Payton said. "Those are guys that are important parts ofwhat we do. When you lose players like that you've got to get to yournext plan and build a game plan that gives you the best chance to winthat weekend.

"That's hard for me to answer. I'd much rather have Reggie Bushhealthy and involved in a game plan where he can be explosive. Nodifferent than Deuce McAllister."

Everyone has watched the Saints offensive explosion at some pointthis season. Everyone has witnessed the unit crawling back under arock at the most inopportune moments as well.

Payton said all the Saints can do is plan for the next opponent withthe players he's got.

"I think any time you play well, you want to build on that," Paytonsaid. "You want to look at the things you felt like you did well. In ashort week, the key is making sure we get enough rest here and areready to come back and put up another good effort against another teamthat will give some different looks defensively.

"We've been able to manage to put strings together. Before you starttalking about a series or string of wins, it starts with the secondone."

Next gameWho: ArizonaCardinals (6-7) at Saints (6-7)

When: Sunday, noon

Where: Superdome

TV: Fox-8, Fox-10, Fox-25

Radio: WWL-AM 870

NFC playoff picture

With 3 games left:

1. Dallas (12-1)

2. Green Bay (11-2)

3. Seattle (9-4)

4. Tampa Bay (9-4)

5. New York Giants (9-4)

6. Minnesota (7-6)

7. New Orleans (6-7)*

8. Washington (6-7)

9. Detroit (6-7)

10. Arizona (6-7)

*Saints hold tiebreaker with best conference record (5-4)