Clutch Performers

Drew Brees returns right in time to save Saints' season

The New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees, Baltimore Ravens' Justin Tucker, Washington Redskins' Kirk Cousins, Denver Broncos' T.J. Ward and Seattle Seahawks' Kam Chancellor each had the strength to come through during a key moment and contribute to wins during Week 4.

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.

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Strong stats to consider:
» It had been 343 days since the Saints last won at home. That win came in Week 8 of last season -- also on "Sunday Night Football" -- in a 44-23 win over the Green Bay Packers.
» The Saints' 26-20 win over the Dallas Cowboys ended 13 seconds into overtime, making this the shortest regular-season overtime game in NFL history (the 2011 AFC wild-card game between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers ended 11 seconds into overtime on Tim Tebow's 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas).

Power of the moment: After missing the Saints' Week 3 loss to the Carolina Panthers with a rotator cuff injury that was expected to sideline the quarterback for multiple weeks, Brees returned in time to help salvage the Saints' season. Relegated to mostly short-range strikes in the normally very vertical Saints passing game, Brees completed 33 of 41 throws for 359 yards and two touchdowns. Brees' return helped the Saints avoid their first 0-4 start since 2012 (when head coach Sean Payton was suspended and Aaron Kromer was the interim head coach), and gives New Orleans a puncher's chance at reaching the postseason. Since 1990, 14 percent of teams that started 1-3 made the playoffs. In that same time frame, just 1.2 percent of teams that started 0-4 made the playoffs. This is hope for Saints fans.

Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

Strong stats to consider:
» Tucker's 52-yard game-winning field goal tied Jeff Reed for the longest field goal ever successfully kicked at Heinz Field, which opened in 2001.
» Since 2008, 11 of 18 games between the Ravens and Steelers have been decided by three points or less.

Power of the moment: Like the Saints, the Ravens were out to avoid the competitive abyss that is an 0-4 start. The Ravens had never started a season 0-3 in franchise history (dating back to 1996), so 0-4 would seem like purgatory for Baltimore fans accustomed to success. It wasn't easy, as the Ravens rallied from a 20-7 third quarter deficit, were the beneficiaries of some unfortunate special-teams events for the Steelers, and got more clutch kicks from Tucker in the 23-20 overtime win. Since 2012, Tucker has the most game-winning field goals in the NFL with seven.

Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

Strong stats to consider:
» The Redskins had 417 yards of total offense in the 23-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, which is the most for Washington this season.
» The Redskins have now gotten consecutive home wins against the Eagles for the first time since 1997-99.

Power of the moment: On a 15-play, 90-yard scoring drive that eliminated five minutes and 39 seconds from the just over six minutes remaining in the game, Cousins completed six of 10 passes for 44 yards. The Redskins' balance of efficient passing from Cousins and success in the run game helped deal their division rival another devastating defeat. The once-promising Eagles fell to 1-3 after the loss, while the Redskins -- a team many didn't have high hopes for this season -- improved to 2-2. It should be noted that the last time the Redskins opened a season 2-2 was in 2012, when the team finished 10-6 and won the NFC East.

T.J. Ward, Denver Broncos

Strong stats to consider:
» The Broncos have been held under 25 points in three of four games this season.
» The Broncos have won three of their four games this season by seven points or less. Denver won four games by seven or fewer points in all of 2014.

Power of the moment: The Broncos aren't relying on the aging arm of Peyton Manning this season, as the team's defense has carried Denver to its second 4-0 start in three years. The Broncos sacked Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater seven times, including two for Ward. The second was a strip sack on the Vikings' last-chance drive of the game, and secured a 23-20 win.

Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks

Strong stats to consider:
» The Seahawks are 24-2 in home games since 2012, tied with the Denver Broncos for the best winning percentage in the NFL in that timespan (.923).
» The Seahawks have not lost in a game game in primetime during the Pete Carroll era (8-0 since 2011).

Power of the moment: The return of Chancellor from a holdout has sparked a two-game win streak for the Seahawks after a surprising 0-2 start to the season for the two-time defending NFC champions. With Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson seemingly headed for a go-ahead touchdown, Chancellor punched the ball free from Johnson's grip at the 1-yard line. Chancellor's timely, heads-up play in the waning moments of Monday night's thriller and preserved a 13-10 win. Dating back to last season, the Seahawks defense has not allowed a touchdown in 18 quarters (regular season only) with Chancellor on the field.

Follow Jim Reineking on Twitter @jimreineking.

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