December 13, 2013 at 1:16 am

John Niyo

Reggie Bush says he's ready for the challenge of leading Lions over playoffs threshold

Reggie Bush is on pace to be the first 1,000-yard Lions rusher since 2004, and he ranks fourth among NFL running backs in yards per game. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Allen Park — He wasn’t brought here simply to be a decoy. And he certainly wasn’t brought here to be a bystander.

The Lions lured Reggie Bush to Detroit with a big free-agent contract last winter because they were convinced he was the missing piece. He was the key that would unlock all that tantalizing offensive potential.

And for the most part, he has been — a big reason the Lions are second in the NFL in total offense and sixth in scoring. Bush is on pace to be the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Lions since 2004 (Kevin Jones), and he ranks fourth among NFL running backs in yards per game.

But it’s playoffs-or-bust for this team — the Lions have lost three of four since grabbing the NFC North lead — and Bush knows it’ll likely be the latter if he doesn’t produce as promised in this stretch run.

“I relish these opportunities, I look forward to them,” Bush said. “We’ve been talking throughout the season about not feeling the pressure, but applying the pressure. Hopefully, I can help add to that.”

He needs to do more than help, of course, though without question the Lion’s share of pressure should fall on the shoulders of Matthew Stafford the next few weeks.

The Lions are 6-0 when Bush finishes with more than 100 yards from scrimmage. (He finished with exactly 100 in the five-turnover fiasco against the Buccaneers, a loss.) And with one of the league’s better defenses coming to town for Monday’s nationally televised showdown, Bush, who has had his issues with fumbles and dropped passes, hasn’t been shy about what it all means. The playoffs are still a few weeks away, yet as he noted again Wednesday, the Lions have to play like it’s January now.

“Every game is kind of win-or-go-home, so we have to understand the unique opportunity, the situation that we’re in right now,” he said.

Worst seat in the house

The situation he’s in right now is not ideal. But Bush planned to return to practice today after sitting out to rest a calf injury that he aggravated in pregame warmups last weekend in Philadelphia, forcing him to miss all the fun in the snow.

Bush has missed two games: a Week 3 victory at Washington and the loss in Philadelphia. He sat virtually the entire second half of the loss at Arizona as well, and I know what many of you are thinking.

Bush’s durability was questioned earlier in his career in New Orleans. But remember, he missed one game in two seasons as the featured back in Miami — with nearly 450 carries and 1,200 snaps played — before signing with Detroit. And his frustration was as evident in his voice this week as it was on the sideline in Philadelphia, “because of what was at stake.”

“It’s always hard watching from the sideline, being a spectator,” Bush said. “I hate it.”

Opponents don’t mind it. Because without Bush in the lineup, the Lions look a lot like the 2012 team that went 4-12, even with the emergence of tag-team backfield mate Joique Bell. With Bush on the field, they’re a team that can cause matchup nightmares for defenses with their pre-snap reads. Even from a run-oriented “12 personnel” look — one running back, two tight ends — the Lions can be a pass-happy bunch.

For example, one of the highlights from the Thanksgiving victory over Green Bay came on a third-down play on Detroit’s first touchdown drive midway through the second quarter. Bush motioned out of the backfield and lined up wide left. The Packers were stuck with linebacker A.J. Hawk in coverage against Bush, who beat him on a go route and hauled in a 32-yard catch. Soon after, the rout was on.

“He’s obviously an explosive player,” Stafford said. “You’ve watched him for as many games as I have here. He’s a very talented player — a guy that can make people miss in space and creates matchup problems. Anytime you have that on the field, it’s a bonus and a plus.”

Been there, done that

Plus, there’s the bonus in Bush, 28, being a veteran with championship experience, one of just a few Lions who’ve played in a Super Bowl.

He says some of his teammates have asked him what it takes to get to the next level. (“I’ve always felt that experience is something that goes a long way in this league,” he said.) But his answer is pretty simple: Live in the moment; just don’t let it overwhelm you.

“For us, we’re a young, hungry team and we’re playing at home on Monday night,” he said. “All the motivation we need is right there in front of us.”

What they really need, though, is for Bush to be right there, too.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
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