"Who can make a play? I can!"
Terrell Owens famously asked and answered the question while playing for the San Francisco 49ers. He might've rubbed some teammates and coaches the wrong way during his career, but T.O.'s playmaking ability led to more than a few key wins for his various NFL employers. He was a great example of how a non-quarterback can dominate a football game.
The Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers all pulled out narrow victories Sunday afternoon. The quarterbacks on those four teams (Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Tony Romo and Josh Freeman, respectively) played very well and will likely receive the majority of the credit for their squads' triumphs. However, they weren't the most dominant performers for their respective teams Sunday. The Broncos were led by a pass-rushing menace, while the Texans, Cowboys and Bucs all relied on big-time receivers to deliver in the clutch.
In order to win big games in the NFL, teams must have more than just a talented quarterback. They need players at other positions who can dominate their individual matchups and produce big plays. These four players did just that in Week 11:
1) Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos
Manning had another solid outing for the Broncos (7-3), but Miller was the most dominant player in Denver's 30-23 win over the San Diego Chargers. His consistent pressure on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers prevented the San Diego offense from ever getting in sync. Miller finished with three sacks, two forced fumbles and two tackles for a loss. The Chargers (4-6) still have a shot at a wild-card spot, but Miller all but eliminated their chances of winning the AFC West.
2) Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans
Johnson proved he can still take over an NFL game, catching 14 balls for 273 yards and one touchdown during the 9-1 Texans' 43-37 overtime victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9). Johnson showed he's a complete receiver by hauling in shallow crosses, deep posts, digs and go-routes. In overtime, he took a simple bubble screen 48 yards for the winning score. Johnson might not have the pure explosiveness he had a few years ago, but he still has the tools for dominating opposing defenses.
3) Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant has faced no shortage of scrutiny during his short NFL career. He's had issues off the field and dropped some costly passes since arriving in Dallas, but Sunday provided a great reminder as to why the Cowboys selected him in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Bryant was a dominating force and the key figure in the Cowboys' 23-20 win over the Cleveland Browns, catching 12 balls for 145 yards and one touchdown. He also got Cleveland's overmatched secondary to commit numerous defensive penalties. When he's focused, Bryant can take over games with his raw athleticism and playmaking ability.
4) Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs overcame a late fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Carolina Panthers and collect their fourth-straight victory, and Jackson played a huge role, catching a 24-yard touchdown pass from Josh Freeman with 12 seconds remaining in regulation to get Tampa Bay within two points of the lead. Jackson had three defenders around him on the play, but he utilized his elite size and impressive concentration to high point the ball for the score. He then slipped past his defender to convert the game-tying two-point conversion. Everyone in the stadium knew Jackson was going to get the football on those two plays, and he still managed to deliver. That's what defines a dominant football player.
Didn't see this coming
The NFL is always good for a few surprises on a weekly basis. I don't know too many people who anticipated a high-scoring shootout between the Jaguars and the Texans. Jacksonville's offense, which had been dormant for the first 10 weeks of the season, came alive against Houston.
Chad Henne replaced an injured Blaine Gabbert at quarterback and lit up the Texans' secondary for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who had been a non-factor prior to Sunday, exploded, catching seven passes for 236 yards and a touchdown.
Despite the impressive effort, the Jaguars came up short in overtime. But there are still several reasons for Jaguars fans to be encouraged. First of all, Sunday's game showed that this team hasn't quit on coach Mike Mularkey. Second, the play of Blackmon and Cecil Shorts III (three catches for 81 yards and one touchdown) proved that there are indeed some playmakers on the Jaguars' roster. Finally, Henne's outstanding performance demonstrated that he can be a solid alternative to Gabbert, who has struggled much of the year.
Three startling statistics
1) Matt Schaub had more completions (43) than the Arizona Cardinals had passing yards (41). Schaub's 43 completions set a franchise record, and he also notched the second-most passing yards even in an NFL game (527), guiding the Texans to a narrow win over Jacksonville. The Arizona Cardinals, meanwhile, mustered just 41 total yards through the air behind Ryan Lindley and John Skelton in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons. To put the Cardinals' passing futility in perspective, St. Louis Rams punter Johnny Hekker threw for 40 yards in Week 10.
2) Von Miller (13) and J.J. Watt (11.5) each have more sacks this season than the Oakland Raiders (11). Miller and Watt are the top two candidates to be named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. Miller has been on a tear lately, piling up seven sacks over his last three games. Watt had a big game on Sunday, collecting a sack along with eight tackles. The Raiders' defense, meanwhile, has been a disaster. The unit has struggled to stop the run, and the pass rush is non-existent.
3) The New England Patriots have allowed a total of three sacks in their last five games. Since allowing four sacks to the Denver Broncos in Week 5, the Patriots' offensive line has done a much better job of protecting Tom Brady. New England's ability to run the ball and Brady's quick release have also contributed to the improvement in this area.
Streaking in the wrong direction
Teams like the Patriots, Broncos and Green Bay Packers are riding hot streaks, but others are heading in the opposite direction. Four NFL squads have lost six or more games in a row: the Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles have dropped six straight, while the Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs have lost seven consecutive contests.
The starting quarterbacks for all four teams have dealt with injuries this season. Pass protection has been a major problem for the Eagles, Cardinals and Jaguars, who rank 32nd, 31st and 27th in sacks allowed, respectively. The Chiefs have been better in this area (15th in sacks allowed), but they are dead last in turnover margin. The biggest issue with these teams, though, has been their inability to score points; they are the four lowest-scoring teams in the NFL (the Chiefs are dead last at 15.2 points per game, the Eagles 31st at 16.2, the Cardinals 30th at 16.3 and the Jaguars 29th at 16.4).
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.