METAIRIE, La. (AP) -Trying to win without Deuce McAllister was one thing.
The New Orleans Saints still had Reggie Bush in the backfield, and he began handling more carries after McAllister's season-ending knee injury in Week 3.
On Sunday in Carolina, however, Saints coach Sean Payton devised a scheme that might make opposing defenses think twice about paying too much attention to New Orleans' flashy second-year running back.
Limited in practice the past week with a bruised left shin, Bush carried the ball only nine times for 32 yards and caught only three passes for 30 yards. Yet his reduced workload and relatively low production hardly slowed down the Saints.
Drew Brees found nine receivers for a total of 260 yards passing and three touchdowns, while reserve running backs Aaron Stecker and rookie Pierre Thomas helped New Orleans finish with 113 yards on the ground in a 31-6 triumph.
``I was going to have to be patient and I was happy with the mix,'' Payton said Monday as he reviewed his approach to attacking the Panthers. ``We blocked well particularly on first down and second-and-long, we ran the ball quite a bit and just tried to get to the manageable third down that we look for.''
With Brees often throwing in situations where either short or long passes would do, he was able to throw all over the field.
He hit Marques Colston for a 45-yard gain, one of seven receptions the second-year receiver had for 93 yards and a touchdown. Brees found Devery Henderson for a 33-yard gain. He found Billy Miller and Lance Moore on short touchdown passes and connected on several other short throws to Bush and receiver David Patten. Brees also ran eight yards for a score.
In three of the Saints' first four victories, Bush had more than 100 yards running and receiving combined. His 62 total yards at Carolina were his fewest in any of New Orleans' five victories.
That doesn't mean Payton won't call Bush's number more this Sunday when the Saints (5-6) host NFC South leading Tampa Bay (7-4) in a matchup with playoff implications.
Bush leads New Orleans in rushing with 517 yards and four touchdowns. He also has a team-leading 70 receptions for 404 yards and two scores.
``He's a big part of what we do,'' Payton said. ``We felt getting Aaron and Pierre involved was going to be something that would help us. You have to count on more guys to contribute sometimes.''
Stecker, Thomas and fullback Mike Karney had 26 carries between them against Carolina, combining for nearly triple the number of runs Bush had.
``Part of that plan was ... where's Reggie at with his shin? And if we can reduce some of the touches or some of the plays he plays, we'll be able to help ourselves and fortunately it worked out,'' Payton said. ``We'll see how we approach Tampa Bay. We're going to need these guys. It's hard to go in with just one (running back) and they understand that.''
Payton gave the Saints Monday off, as he often does after victories, in addition to their regularly scheduled day off on Tuesday.
The Saints will return to practice still in the hunt for a playoff spot in the mediocre NFC. New Orleans is one of six NFC teams at 5-6, all of them one game behind Detroit (6-5) for the final Wild Card spot in the conference.
The Saints also could pull within a game of the NFC South Division lead with a victory over Tampa Bay.
Payton said he couldn't afford to spend much time thinking about playoff scenarios when the Saints remain below .500 and next play a team that beat them 31-14 in Week 2. Both Bush and McAllister played in that game, and neither did well.
``You get caught looking at the scenarios and you lose focus on the short term,'' Payton said. ``The only thing that we can control is this weekend against Tampa.
``We have five games left and that is more than a month of football,'' Payton continued. ``A lot can happen in that time frame and I know one thing, we are going to have to play well.''

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