Clutch Performers

Marcus Mariota's return pulls Titans out of wretched skid

The Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown, Indianapolis Colts' Darius Butler, Carolina Panthers' Thomas Davis, Tennessee Titans' Marcus Mariota and Philadelphia Eagles' Sam Bradford each had the strength to come through during a key moment and contribute to wins during Week 9.

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.

Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

Strong stats to consider:
» In the win over the Saints, the Titans scored nearly as many points (34) as they did in the previous four games combined (36).
» Mariota's 13 touchdown passes this season is a new Titans rookie record. Vince Young held the previous record with 12 touchdown passes in 2006.

Power of the moment: Mariota just might have a future in this game. After missing two games with a knee sprain, Mariota directed an unexpected 34-28 overtime win over the New Orleans Saints. The Saints entered Week 9 riding a three-game win streak, and had played themselves back into the NFC playoff race after an 0-3 start. Operating under the direction of interim head coach Mike Mularkey and riding a six-game losing streak, Mariota's return was a godsend. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and hopeful future of the franchise at the quarterback position delivered his best game since that epic performance in a Week 1 demolition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mariota had four touchdown passes in the win -- including the game-winner to tight end Anthony Fasano -- matching the four-touchdown effort in his NFL debut. By not throwing an interception, Mariota joined New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks with two games with four or more touchdown passes and no interceptions this season, and became the first rookie in NFL history to have two such games.

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

Strong stats to consider:
» In 38-35 win over the Oakland Raiders, the Steelers became the first team in NFL history to have one player record 300-plus scrimmage yards (Brown, 306) and another player record 200-plus scrimmage yards (DeAngelo Williams, 225) in the same game.
» Brown's 284 yards receiving is the seventh-most in NFL history (Willie "Flipper" Anderson set the record at 336 yards for the Los Angeles Rams against the New Orleans Saints in 1989).

Power of the moment: The upstart Raiders pushed the Steelers to the brink. Thanks to the efforts of Brown and Williams, the Steelers were able to escape with a win after the injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger is expected to miss a few weeks of game action, and a tough stretch of games awaits following a Week 10 encounter with the long-time rival Cleveland Browns. After Week 10, the Steelers play five consecutive games against opponents that made the playoffs last season (at Seattle, vs. Indianapolis, at Cincinnati, vs. Denver, at Baltimore -- of course, the Ravens aren't exactly having a good go of it as a followup to 2014's playoff berth). Brown and Williams -- who is getting the majority of the work out of the backfield after Le'Veon Bell's season-ending injury -- will be counted on to provide aid to backup quarterback Landry Jones during that tough stretch of games.

Darius Butler, Indianapolis Colts

Strong stats to consider:
» In knocking the Denver Broncos from the ranks of the unbeatens, the Colts defense allowed 309 yards of total offense. That represented the fewest this season, and the 35 yards rushing allowed is the lowest since Week 7 of 2014 in a 27-0 win over the Cincinnati Bengals (32 yards).
» Including playoff games, the Colts have defeated the Broncos in eight of their last nine meetings. The last time the Broncos won in Indianapolis was in 2003 at the RCA Dome, when Peyton Manning and Jake Plummer were the dueling quarterbacks.

Power of the moment: The AFC South (along with the NFC East, too) has become a punchline this season. The two-time defending division champion Colts again have found themselves sitting in first place, but were a dismal 3-5 entering Week 9. There was something about playing Peyton Manning and the Broncos that set the Colts straight. Luck had his best game of the season in the 27-24 win, throwing for 252 yards and two touchdowns. That performance set the Colts up for victory; Butler's fourth-quarter interception helped the team seal it.

However, optimism from Sunday's big victory was soon curtailed by the news that dropped on Tuesday. Luck could miss up to six weeks with a lacerated kidney, a development that leaves the AFC South up for grabs.

Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers

Strong stats to consider:
» With the 37-29 win over the Green Bay Packers, the Panthers joined the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots with 8-0 records. The three teams at 8-0 is the most in a single season in NFL history.
» The Panthers are riding a 12-game regular-season win streak, and this current eight-game winning ride is the longest in a single season.

Power of the moment: What looked like it would be a blowout turned into a nail-biter after the Packers mounted a frenzied fourth-quarter rally. That rally very nearly netted the tying score. However, Davis leapt to reach an Aaron Rodgers pass and picked it off to seal the win. That game-clinching play meant the Panthers are now in complete control of the NFC. Carolina has a two-game lead -- including the always important head-to-head tiebreaker on Green Bay -- on its nearest competition in the NFC standings.

Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles

Strong stats to consider:
» In the 33-27 overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys, Bradford earned his first career win over Dallas in three tries.
» The Eagles have rushed for 150 or more yards in the last four games. That is the longest streak for the Eagles within a season since 1992 (Herschel Walker was the team's leading rusher that season with 1,070 yards).

Power of the moment: The Eagles climbed to within a half game of the division-leading New York Giants in the NFC East. Philadelphia has managed to do this after starting the season 1-3. However, the Eagles have won three of four since, and host the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before visiting Ford Field to play the Detroit Lions. Those three teams are a combined 7-17, and provide the Eagles with an opportunity to keep gaining ground in the NFC playoff race.

Follow Jim Reineking on Twitter @jimreineking.

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