CLEVELAND (Sept. 10, 2006) -- Reggie Bush strolled down the hallway toward the team bus wearing a backpack, blue L.A. Dodgers baseball cap and smile. He looked like a college kid headed home from class.
School may be over for Bush. His pro education has just begun.
In Week 1, he passed his first test.
"I would probably give myself a 'B,'" he said. "I didn't get in the end zone."
Bush, whose arrival in New Orleans has given the city's football fans renewed optimism in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's devastation, finished with 141 total yards. The Heisman Trophy winner had 61 yards rushing on 14 attempts, caught eight passes for 58 yards and returned three punts for 22.
He never got loose on one of the trademark breakaways he made commonplace at Southern California, and a few times he would have been better off falling down than trying to escape tacklers.
Although he didn't score, Bush helped get the Saints off to a winning start in this season of rebirth.
"I just wanted us to get a win," Bush said. "I wasn't focused on anything else. This was a perfect first step."
John Carney kicked four field goals, the last one with 5:42 remaining, and Brees, who signed a six-year, $60 million free-agent contract in March, threw a 12-yard TD pass to rookie Marques Colston in the third quarter.
The Saints also got 90 yards on 22 carries from Deuce McAllister, making his return after missing the final 11 games last season following knee surgery.
New Orleans didn't clinch rookie coach Sean Payton's first win until the final two minutes, when safety Josh Bullocks intercepted a pass that deflected off the hands of receiver Braylon Edwards in New Orleans territory.
The Browns fell to 1-7 in season openers since returning to the league in 1999, and coach Romeo Crennel was short with the media during his postgame news conference.
"The other team played better than we did," snapped Crennel.
"Are you angry?" he was asked.
"I'm just peachy," he said.
Cleveland was held to 56 total yards and blanked in the first 30 minutes. But the Browns came back as Charlie Frye threw an 18-yard TD pass to Winslow, and the second-year quarterback scored on a 1-yard sneak to bring Cleveland within 16-14 with 11:20 to go.
Brees finished 17 of 31 for 176 yards with one interception. Frye, making his sixth career start, was 16 of 27 for 132 yards with the TD and two picks.
Winslow looked fully recovered after missing 30 games the past two seasons and had eight catches for 63 yards.
Bush made some rookie mistakes early. He misjudged Cleveland's first punt, retreating when it sailed over his head. Late in the first quarter, he slithered through traffic on an 18-yard run and several other carries where he nearly got free.
Bush also dropped a third-down pass near the 5 that he might have scored on, and the 21-year-old had other moments where he tried to do too much.
"I was close a couple of times," Bush said. "On some of those plays I should have gone North instead of cutting sideways."
As he has done since the moment the Saints drafted him second overall, Bush made another strong impression.
"He has something to prove to everybody in this league and he wants to be the best," wide receiver Joe Horn said. "I think he did very well for just starting out. A lot of people wanted to see No. 25 in a real fight, and they were able to see it."
Winslow immediately ran to the Browns bench, spiked his helmet and hugged head trainer Marty Lauzon, who spent countless hours in rehab with the tight end.
"It's been hard for me, he's been there every step of the way," Winslow said.