The expression has been used countless times by coaches and players when describing clutch performances by star athletes: "Big players make big plays in big games."
Pick a sport, pick a big spot, and chances are you'll find a notable achievement by an elite player.
But the big stage in sports doesn't discriminate; no matter your star status or net worth, there's room for anyone to make memories. Whether it's the Yankees' Bucky Dent launching a home run over the Green Monster or Washington's Timmy Smith coming out of nowhere to run for 204 yards and two TDs in a Super Bowl, unlikely sports heroes emerge all the time.
Will another come out of Jets-Bengals in Saturday's first-round playoff game in Cincinnati? Could be. With all the attention focused on key players such as the Jets' Darrelle Revis, Thomas Jones and Bart Scott and the Bengals' Chad Ochocinco, Cedric Benson and Carson Palmer, here's our look at six under-the-radar players who could play a big role in whether the Jets move on to next week's divisional round:
Brad Smith, WR. Smith made two huge plays out of the Jets' Tiger offense Sunday. Did he catch the Bengals' undermanned defense by surprise? Perhaps. But they shouldn't be surprised to see him line up under center in the Jets' version of the Wildcat. One wrinkle we might see this time: Smith throwing out of the formation. He was a terrific quarterback at Missouri and can throw with accuracy. He also has become a force on kickoff returns, as evidenced by his team-record 106-yard runback against the Colts two weeks ago.
Shonn Greene, RB: Jones figures to get the bulk of the carries, but Greene has proven to be a capable back. His 540 rushing yards were second among AFC rookie backs, and he has the advantage of catching defenses somewhat off guard after coming in for Jones. Can he carry the load alone? Not yet, although the Jets see him as Jones' heir apparent. Does he figure to offer a changeup to complement Jones' tough inside running? Absolutely.
Jim Leonhard, S. Revis clearly is the star of the Jets' defense, and his matchup with Ochocinco will be important. But because Revis has been so dominant against big-time receivers, chances are Palmer will look off Ochocinco and try to use former Jets receiver Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell more. That will put more pressure on cornerback Lito Sheppard, who has a chance to make a few big plays himself. It also will force Leonhard to get more involved in coverage and will give him a chance to pick off a pass in a key spot.
Jay Feely, K. Let's go out on a limb here and say there's a high probability the Jets won't enjoy a laugher like their 37-0 win over the Bengals last Sunday. With playoff games typically decided in the fourth quarter, field-goal accuracy is paramount. Feely is coming off a solid regular season in which he made 30 of 36 attempts. In a close game, he can't afford a miss.
Bryan Thomas, LB. It has been a quiet season - at least
statistically - for Thomas, drafted in the first round as a defensive end in 2002. But he has had a solid transformation to outside linebacker in Rex Ryan's 3-4 scheme and has been a factor in the Jets' top-ranked defense, especially against the run. He'll have to be at his best against the run-oriented Bengals, especially with inside linebacker David Harris hurting. He hasn't been used much in pass-rushing situations, but Ryan won't be afraid to send him against Palmer in a big spot.
Wallace Wright, WR. Wright might be the least recognizable player on the entire roster; special-teams tacklers rarely get much credit. But with the return game taking on added significance in the playoffs, Wright's play could be a critical element, especially in creating a field-position advantage for the Jets.