Bush hopes to repeat 06′ performance vs. 49ers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 30, 2007

After an 0-4 start, the New Orleans Saints are beginning to resemble the team that came within a game of the Super Bowl last year. The San Francisco 49ers appear to be heading in the opposite direction.

The Saints travel to San Francisco on Sunday for the first time since 2001, to face their former NFC West rival.

These clubs used to face each other twice each season as division rivals, but that changed in 2002, when the league re-aligned and New Orleans (2-4) moved to the newly created NFC South.

They’ve faced each other three times at the Superdome since, with the Saints winning all of those contests including a 34-10 victory last Dec. 6, when Reggie Bush had 131 receiving yards and four total touchdowns – both career highs.

That contest was perhaps the highlight of a rookie season in which Bush totaled 1,523 all-purpose yards. He has yet to record 100 yards rushing or receiving in any game this year, but did gain 73 total yards in last Sunday’s 22-16 victory over Atlanta, including the go-ahead 4-yard TD reception from Drew Brees with 5:15 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Bush then ran the ball in for a two-point conversion.

“Reggie Bush is starting to find his niche as a running back,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, who needs to rely on Bush more with starting back Deuce McAllister out for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee.

Along with Bush, the rest of the Saints appear to be turning their season around. After totaling 51 points while losing their first four games, they have scored 50 while winning the last two and showing flashes of the form that made them NFC South champions in last year’s 10-6 season.

They remain in third place in the South, though, two games behind Carolina for the division lead.

“We put ourselves in a hole,” Payton said. “I think we have the right type of guys in the locker room to dig ourselves out of it, but still it’s about execution and all the details that go into winning football games. That’s where our focus is now and I think the players understand that. We have a lot of work to do still.”

Meanwhile, the 49ers (2-4) have lost four straight after starting the season 2-0. An ineffective offense has been the main culprit. San Francisco ranks last in the NFL in total offense per game (213.8), passing yards (125.0), first downs (76) and total points (78).

Running back Frank Gore, who led the NFC last season with a franchise-record 1,695 yards, lashed out at first-year offensive coordinator Jim Hostler following San Francisco’s 33-15 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

“I feel like we don’t have the trust,” said Gore, who has been limited to 394 rushing yards and three touchdowns through six games. “We’re not trusting each other. We’re not trusting the coordinator. … I just know that when we had Norv Turner, he had been doing it for a while. Whenever he said something, we wanted to do it. And now I feel that a lot of people, when coach Hoss or somebody calls something, it gets in the back of their heads, ‘Is he calling the right play?'”

Losing quarterback Alex Smith to a separated shoulder hasn’t helped matters. However, Smith, who was planning to work out this week but remained questionable to start Sunday, has completed just 51.2 percent of his passes for only 461 yards and one touchdown in four games.

His backup, 35-year-old Trent Dilfer, hasn’t fared much better, with a 52.2 completion percentage, three TDs and five interceptions in three games.

Dilfer, though, showed support for his offensive coordinator.

“I’ve been around this league, and … I can promise you that Jim Hostler is prepared, smart and as diligent as any offensive coordinator I’ve ever been around,” Dilfer said. “Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have the credibility to go through a failure period, and people say, ‘Oh, that’s all right.'”

Despite their losing streak, the third-place 49ers remain in contention in a struggling NFC West, 1 1-2 games behind the first-place Seahawks.