Bush fires Saints past Cardinals

Although the Cardinals made the perfect start by going in front with just 19 seconds gone through a Tim Hightower 70-yard run, the Saints quickly hit back and established supremacy.

Three first-quarter touchdowns delighted a raucous Louisiana crowd and put the game firmly in the hands of a New Orleans team looking like the outfit who won their opening 13 games of the season.

"We talked about turnovers being all important and protection too and that was the case.."

Arizona, who gave up two turnovers, struggled to respond as they conceded 45 points for the second successive game.

With key players missing through injury, the Cardinals, who had spectacularly beaten Green Bay 51-45 in the wildcard round, failed to protect quarterback Kurt Warner.

Warner, who after the game declined to reveal whether he will continue in the league or retire, suffered a rib and chest injury that took him temporarily out of the game in the second quarter.

The touchdowns from Lynell Hamilton, Jeremy Shockey and Bush allowed New Orleans to lead 35-14 at the break.

PUMPED-UP SAINTS

Although Warner later returned he was unable to lead a comeback against a pumped-up Saints defense and the impressive Bush.

Bush's first score had come from a brilliant, weaving 54-yard touchdown run and the Saints running back made sure of the victory with an 83-yard punt return in the third.

Quarterback Drew Brees threw three touchdowns for 247 yards for the Saints, who will face the winner of Sunday's clash between the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings.

Payton paid tribute to Bush.

"He is as healthy as he has been," he said. "He is a dynamic player and he played real well today."

"I felt we were ready," added Payton. "The week off helped us and we had a handful of guys able to get healthy. We had been tired at end of regular season. I knew we were ready, the way we worked all week and we were confident.."

For Whisenhunt's team, who were defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers in last season's Super Bowl, the loss was hard to take.

"I have to give credit to New Orleans," he said. "They are a very good football team but it is difficult after how hard we have worked to get to this stage,

"I am proud of our team, we have made tremendous amount of progress -- just disappointed for them it had to end this way."

(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Alastair Himmer)