METAIRIE, La. (AP) -For all the screaming fans wearing No. 25 jerseys, few folks in the Louisiana Superdome seemed happier than Saints coach Sean Payton as Reggie Bush broke for a highlight-real score.
Bush burst into the open field with a short pass before juking, stiff-arming and diving his way into the end zone. Wearing a black windbreaker, visor and headset, Payton skipped along the sideline, pumping his fist as he watched the first player he ever drafted finish off a 42-yard catch and run that lifted New Orleans to a season-opening 24-20 triumph over Tampa Bay.
``He was a big difference in this game. As the game wore on, he became too much for them to handle. When you watch the tape, it was evident,'' Payton said Monday. ``He just looked fast. He looked faster than everyone else on the field.''
the Saints drafted him second overall in the spring of 2006.
``Right, that's me. That's what everybody expects. Every game, they want to see that,'' Bush said with a smile of resignation as he sat in his locker at the Saints' suburban headquarters. ``I would love to see that, too, every game, but I know it may not come every game. It may not come for another few games, but as long as I'm out there making plays, keeping my team in the game, keeping the drive alive, doing that, we should be fine.''
After a promising rookie year, Bush labored through a frustrating 2007, when he failed to muster one gain longer than 25 yards in 12 games before a knee injury sidelined him.
Given the hype with which he entered the league, his growing worldwide fame, his slew of national endorsement deals and the way the Saints made him one of the faces of their franchise, Bush had to do better.
In the first game of 2008, he did, finishing with 112 yards receiving and 51 yards rushing. On the winning drive, he turned a short pass over the middle into a 29-yard gain, then scored his touchdown on a swing pass three plays later. In one series, he had eclipsed his longest gain of 2007 - twice.
Exhausted and sore after the game, Bush said he returned to his downtown condominium in a high-rise along the Mississippi River, had some dinner and watched a little television before falling asleep a happy man.
``I saw the highlights,'' Bush said. ``It was great to have made that play in such a clutch situation, and hopefully there's more to come.''
The Saints are counting on it. Since preseason began, teammates have repeatedly expressed confidence in Bush's ability to regain some of the magic of his 2006 season, when he broke off several long runs for spectacular touchdowns. Their optimism stems from evidence they saw of Bush's determination to improve since this year began.
Bush was a constant sight at Saints headquarters during the offseason, unlike the winter of 2007, when he skipped voluntary workouts, filmed a commercial with soccer star David Beckham in Spain and spent much of his time working out on his own in Los Angeles.
``Reggie has been working really hard at it,'' quarterback Drew Brees said. ``He's still a young player, but each and every day he's getting better. You can see it with the time and effort he's putting in. It's fun to watch it all come together.''
For Bush, the goal is to become a complete player, someone who can be counted on to convert a grinding third-and-short run or protect Brees from a linebacker blitz.
``There's all types of big plays,'' Bush said. ``It doesn't have to be a long run. It could be a huge third-down conversion or a huge goal-line run or a huge block or something like that.''
Indeed, while Bush didn't gain positive yards every time he touched the ball Sunday, he showed less of a tendency than last year to give up on designed plays and bounce outside, where he'd often be gang-tackled for losses.
Payton gushed as much over Bush's effort on punishing 4-yard runs through the line as his longer gains on pass plays.
``The thing I was excited about was how Reggie Bush played, not just in space, but taking off-tackle runs,'' Payton said. ``He finished (runs) violently. He was aggressive in his decision making. He was a big difference for us. ... He's worked hard, had a great offseason and it was great to see for him starting off with the first game of the year.''

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