The Redskins' Antwaan Randle El has, according to the popular phrase, come up big in big games.
As NFL fans recall, Randle El was spectacular for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL, a game Pittsburgh won 21-10 over Seattle. His 43-yard TD pass to Hines Ward forever will stand out in Super Bowl iconography.
For all of the things he's accomplished in his five-plus seasons in the NFL, though, Randle El has never made a Pro Bowl.
The closest he has ever come? In 2004, he was named a Pro Bowl alternate on special teams.
Given the way he played for the Redskins in September, Randle El may be on the way to presenting his best case. The 5-10, 190-pound all-around talent might be playing the best football of his career.
He and linebacker London Fletcher have been the Redskins' top forces in the team's 2-1 start. Washington, hoping to stretch it out to 3-1, hosts one of the NFL's surprise teams--the 3-1 Detroit Lions--this Sunday at 1 p.m.
After the Redskins' 16-13 overtime win over Miami on Week 1, head coach Joe Gibbs said of Randle El: "The team really respects him. He's a leader. He's not a big guy--just a solid football player. He's very physical for his size, even standing back there on punts."
Against the Dolphins, Randle El produced five catches for a career-high 162 yards, with a long of 54 yards. He also leveled a key block to spring Clinton Portis on a touchdown run.
Through three games, he has totaled 11 receptions for 238 yards, which comes out to an outstanding 21.6 yards per catch.
On special teams, he has returned 10 punts, averaging 7.6 yards per return, with a best effort of 27 yards coming late in the fourth quarter of the Redskins' 24-17 loss to the Giants in Week 3.
Yet in the case of Antwaan Randle El, the statistics don't really indicate what he can mean to a team.
Every time he latches onto the ball, he is a real threat. Teammates sense as much, and they're eager to land a key block for him.
Says Gibbs: "Antwaan is a player who never backs off. He's always going 100 miles per hour."
The team is still tweaking its roster at wide receiver, most recently bringing in veterans such as Keenan McCardell and Reche Caldwell.
What's more Santana Moss has been struggling with a groin injury and Brandon Lloyd has proven to be unproductive so far.
That's why Randle El has been so important through three games. He's been a constant for third-year quarterback Jason Campbell, who is in his first season as the Redskins' full-time starter.
Randle El has shown the ability to adjust to Al Saunders' offensive strategies as well as anyone on the roster.
The ability to change the tenor and pace of a game with one quick strike was the reason Randle El became an essential for the Redskins.
The Redskins on the offensive side of the ball aspire to take a huge step forward in 2007. To date, Randle El certainly has been at the forefront.
Said Saunders: "One of the keys in offensive football is determining what your players can do and putting them in the position to do it. When we went through the process last year we found out what Antwaan can do."
Through three games, that's turned out to be a lot.