Clutch Performers

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Antonio Brown keeps Steelers steamrolling toward playoffs

The Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown, New York Jets' Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton, Houston Texans' Brandon Weeden and Washington Redskins' Kirk Cousins each had the strength to come through during a key moment and contribute to wins during Week 15.

Thanks to those strong performances, each player is up for Castrol EDGE Clutch Performer of the Week honors. This is a deeper look at the significance of those conquests.

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

Strong stats to consider:
» In the 34-27 win over the Denver Broncos, the Steelers have now won five of their last six games following a 4-4 start to the season.
» Brock Osweiler became the first Broncos quarterback to lose in Pittsburgh since John Elway in Week 15 of the 1997 season. The Steelers' quarterback that day was Kordell Stewart. A little over a month later, however, the Broncos would defeat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game.

Power of the moment: The Steelers are steamrolling toward the postseason, and Brown's contributions are a big reason for the late-season surge. In rallying back from a 17-point deficit, the Steelers vaulted over the New York Jets for the sixth -- and final -- wild-card spot in the AFC (based on tiebreakers). Brown had 16 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Coupled with his 17-catch game against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9, Brown became the first player in NFL history to ahve two games with 15-plus receptions in the same season. That's not the only bit of history that Brown attained on Sunday ... he also joined Wes Welker as the only two players in NFL history with three consecutive 110-plus reception seasons. Moving forward, the Steelers face two road games against division rivals in their quest for the postseason. The good news is that those two games come against the Baltimore Ravens (4-10) and Cleveland Browns (3-11).

Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets

Strong stats to consider:
» Fitzpatrick shaved his beard on Nov. 25. This is important stuff here, because the Jets are undefeated (4-0) since he shaved. Fitzpatrick's stats are impressive, too, in that timeframe: 64.8 completion percentage, 307.3 yards passing per game, 10 touchdowns to just one interception, and a passer rating of 105.7.
» The Jets' four-game winning streak is the second longest current streak in the AFC. The Kansas City Chiefs have used a seven-game win streak to propel themselves into the AFC wild-card race.

Power of the moment: Fitzpatrick's efforts this season have kept the Jets in the thick of the AFC playoff race, and this is noteworthy because in the 19-16 win over the Cowboys he clinched his first winning season as a starting quarterback in his 11th season in the NFL. Fitzpatrick was on the Houston Texans team that finished last season at 9-7, but started 12 games and finished 6-6 in those games. In the nine seasons previous to that, teams that Fitzpatrick was a part of finished at .500 or worse.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Strong stats to consider:
» The Panthers' thrilling 38-35 win over the New York Giants pushed Carolina to 14-0, becoming the fourth team in NFL history to start a season 14-0. The others were the 2009 Indianapolis Colts (who finished 14-2 and lost Super Bowl XLIV), the 2007 New England Patriots (who finished 16-0 and lost Super Bowl XLII) and the 1972 Miami Dolphins (who finished 14-0 and won Super Bowl VII).
» The Panthers, however, are the first team in NFL history to start a season 14-0 after having a losing record in the previous season (7-8-1 in 2014).

Power of the moment: Newton's heroics prevented the Panthers from being on the wrong end of some mind-blowing history. Had the Giants won Sunday's game, it would have been the biggest comeback in Giants history and the biggest blown lead in Panthers history. The 28-point comeback would have tied for the largest comeback win for any team in the regular season (1980, San Francisco 49ers over the New Orleans Saints). Instead, the Panthers pulled it out, improved to 14-0 and still have a chance at making history of their own. Think the 1972 Dolphins are getting nervous, yet?

Brandon Weeden, Houston Texans

Strong stats to consider:
» In the Texans' 16-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Weeden became the fifth player to throw a touchdown pass for the Texans this season. The others are Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Cecil Shorts. The Texans became the first team since the 2008 Kansas City Chiefs to have five players throw a touchdown pass (Tyler Thigpen, Damon Huard, Quinn Gray, Mark Bradley and Larry Johnson).

Power of the moment:Texans third-string quarterback Weeden -- who is on his third team in the previous three seasons -- led a come-from-behind win over the Colts in Indianapolis. The Texans winning in Indianapolis is a momentous occasion to be celebrated with fist pumps and high fives if you're a Texans fan. This has never happened in franchise history (13 consecutive losses in Indy for the Texans since the franchise's inception in 2002). The last time an NFL team from Houston won in Indianapolis was in 1992, when it was the Houston Oilers who beat the Colts. That it was Weeden providing the heroics was astonishing. Weeden only has been on the Texans' roster for a month after being claimed off waivers from the Dallas Cowboys (who, it should be noted, are down to another journeyman -- Kellen Moore -- as their starting quarterback at the moment). With Yates out for the season, it will be Weeden who the Texans will count on to deliver a division crown.

Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

Strong stats to consider:
» The Redskins are .500 or better through 14 games for the first time since 2012.
» Cousins has a passing touchdown in 14 consecutive games. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen (23 games from 1966-68) and Joe Theismann (15 games from 1984-85) had longer streaks in Redskins franchise history.

Power of the moment: To the surprise of most everybody, Cousins has the Redskins one win away from claiming the NFC East division crown. This wasn't exactly anticipated in the preseason, when the Redskins benched Robert Griffin III in favor of the lesser-known Cousins. However, Cousins has emerged as one of the season's biggest surprises. In the Redskins' 35-25 win over the Bills, Cousins threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns for a passer rating of 153.7. This was the second game this season in which Cousins had 300-plus yards passing, four touchdowns and a 150-plus passer rating. He joins Drew Brees (2009), Tom Brady (2007), Kurt Warner (2001) and Steve Young (1993) as the only other players with two such games in a single season since 1960. How do you like that?

Follow Jim Reineking on Twitter @jimreineking.

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