http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercu...printstory.jsp By Ira Miller SPECIAL TO MEDIANEWS
We'll probably never know the real story why the Houston Texans chose to draft defensive end Mario Williams instead of Reggie Bush last spring. But we did see on Sunday, really for the first time as a pro, why Houston should have chosen Bush.
In one 16-second stretch of the fourth quarter for the New Orleans Saints, Bush displayed the talent that has led many people to believe the Texans' choice of Williams could be remembered as football's equivalent of the basketball draft in which Sam Bowie was chosen over Michael Jordan.
With a single electrifying play, Bush turned around a game and perhaps a season for the Saints, the lucky team into whose laps Bush fell when the Texans selected Williams.
Tampa Bay was ahead of New Orleans 21-17 and punting with 4:33 remaining in the fourth quarter. Bush, whose longest punt return in the first four games was 14 yards, took the kick at his own 35-yard line, headed straight to the right sideline, eluding the Bucs' Antoine Cash, and then outran everyone to the end zone to complete a 65-yard scoring play.
New Orleans held on to win the game, 24-21.
The Saints otherwise had their hands full and were being beaten by a Tampa Bay team led by rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, a sixth-round draft pick making his first NFL start. Gradkowski completed 20 of 31 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, and he brought the Bucs from 10 points behind to take the lead in the fourth quarter.
The schedule made this victory imperative for the Saints. Their next two opponents are Philadelphia (4-1) and Baltimore (4-0). That's followed by a return match with the Bucs and then successive games against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Atlanta. Heading into that stretch, the Saints need all the margin they can muster, and losing to Gradkowski would not have helped.
New Orleans has only one problem with Bush. The Saints don't know who to thank for their good fortune in being able to draft him.
Charley Casserly, at the time Houston's lame-duck general manager, took the fall for picking Williams. But there is almost no chance it was really his idea, because everyone in the NFL knew Casserly had one foot out the door. The choice had to be the work of first-year coach Gary Kubiak or owner Bob McNair, or a combination of the two.
Most around the league think it was Kubiak, because, while working for Mike Shanahan in Denver, he saw the success Shanahan had in finding less-heralded backs. Also, if an owner like McNair was calling the shot, he almost certainly would have wanted the headline-grabbing, ticket-selling, popular running back, not a defensive lineman.
Whatever the Texans' thinking, it was one of the most stunning top-of-the-draft moves in years because Bush appears to be a once-in-a-generation talent.
Gradkowski, whose NFL starting debut was ruined by Bush's punt return, was just one of three rookie quarterbacks who started games on Sunday, played well for the most part, had their teams in position to win in the fourth quarter -- and then lost.
Arizona's Matt Leinart, making his first start, staked the Cardinals to a 14-0 lead over Kansas City by throwing two touchdown passes in the first nine minutes. His first-quarter passer rating was 158.3, the highest possible. But Kansas City scored on three fourth-quarter possessions to win, 23-20.
Tennessee's Vince Young, making his second start, ran for his first NFL touchdown, helped the Titans take a 10-0 halftime lead at Indianapolis, then watched as Peyton Manning's two second-half touchdown passes won for the Colts, 14-13.
In the day's most-hyped game, the big stars were Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive line. That combination helped the Eagles beat the Cowboys, 38-24, and -- judging from his sideline jawing with teammates and coaches -- might have cracked wider the fissure that eventually will blow up the team's relationship with Terrell Owens.
First, McNabb. He insisted this was no grudge game, but everyone knew differently. This was a game he desperately needed to close the book on 2005, and he got it by passing for 354 yards and running for his third touchdown in two games. And he did this even without Donte Stallworth, his current top receiver, who missed the game with a hamstring injury.
McNabb is averaging 320.4 passing yards a game and, except for a strategic and defensive meltdown in the fourth quarter against the Giants last month, Philly would be off to a 5-0 start.
Next, the defense. The Eagles' banged-up secondary was helped greatly by the return of cornerback Lito Sheppard, who scored the game-clinching touchdown by returning an interception 102 yards with 16 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, his second interception of the quarter near the goal line.
But it was the play of the Eagles' front seven that killed the Dallas offense. Philadelphia, with terrific depth, uses two groups of linemen interchangeably on defense to keep players fresh, and the Eagles overwhelmed a Dallas offensive line that had permitted only three sacks before Sunday.
Philly defensive linemen sacked Drew Bledsoe seven times. Most of the sacks were due to great efforts by the d-linemen, although at least one of them occurred, in a critical late situation, when Bledsoe held onto the ball way longer than a veteran like him should have held it. Tackle Darwin Walker made three sacks, end Darren Howard made two sacks, ends Trent Cole and Juqua Thomas one apiece. The Eagles have 23 sacks in five games.
Meanwhile, Owens dropped at least two passes, caught only three, finished the game with just 45 yards and jawed on the sidelines with both players and coaches, no doubt complaining about a pass headed toward him that was intercepted, or some of the times when the ball went someplace else. Bledsoe aimed a dozen passes at Owens, however, so it wasn't like the Cowboys ignored him on the field. Off the field, they do need to ignore him, but the question is how long they'll be able to do that.