Bruising McAllister crucial in Saints’ playoff push


NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The New Orleans Saints have showcased several new offensive threats this season – quarterback Drew Brees, rookies Reggie Bush and Marques Colston and deep-ball threat Devery Henderson.

Just don’t forget veteran Deuce McAllister.

Though the running back’s workload has lessened, his importance has not. He’s the main reason the Saints will play at Chicago on Sunday in New Orleans’ first-ever NFC Championship game.

“We talk about leaving it all out on the field, and that’s what I try to do,” McAllister said following the Saints’ 27-24 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night. “It was time to be determined not to fail.”

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound McAllister punished Philadelphia defenders with explosive, bruising runs through the line, sometimes leaving his pursuers flat-footed with graceful moves in the open field.

He wound up with a Saints playoff record 143 rushing yards against Philadelphia.

McAllister surged forcefully into the secondary on a 29-yard run that set up the Saints’ first field goal and later moved a pile of players nearly five yards for one of his two touchdowns. He also caught four short passes for 20 yards, including an 11-yarder in which he used a subtle inside fake to leave a tackler leaning the wrong way before scampering around the outside for a touchdown that gave New Orleans the lead for good.

McAllister used less spectacular but no less important runs to clinch the victory. With the Eagles needing to stop New Orleans from getting a first down, the broad-shouldered McAllister barreled through the line for gains of 4, 5 and 5 yards in succession, inspiring prolonged howls of “Deuce” from the Louisiana Superdome crowd.

Brees was able to kneel on it from there to run out the clock.

“We felt like we could wear them down with the run. Deuce ran his heart out,” Brees said. “Deuce has just got such a big heart and definitely is a leader within that offensive group.”

The Saints, who’ve been in the NFL since 1967, are now 2-5 in their playoff history. McAllister is 1-0 after his first appearance in the postseason.

“It’s a phenomenal feeling,” said McAllister, whose central Mississippi upbringing gives him a special bond with the fans in the region. “These fans have supported me since I got here. I just try to go out there and do my job.”

McAllister was the face of the franchise in recent seasons, but the spotlight has shifted away from him since the Saints returned from their one-season exile caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The signing of Brees and drafting of Bush left some doubt about how much McAllister would be called upon by Payton, who spreads the ball around in a multidimensional attack that is similar to a West Coast offense.

In addition, McAllister missed most of last season because of a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery and months of rehabilitation. He wasn’t at full strength when training camp began last summer, sometimes missing the second half of two-a-day practices.

But by the end of the regular season, he was the Saints’ leading rusher with 1,057 yards, surpassing 1,000 yards for the fourth time in his career. He also led New Orleans with 11 touchdowns.

Make that 13 touchdowns now, perhaps with more to come next Sunday against a Bears squad that allowed 127 rushing yards by Seattle.

“When we needed the big runs, he delivered,” Brees said.