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mesaSteeler
10-19-2009, 08:21 AM
Polamalu's gamble pays off
By ERIC KNOPSNYDER
The Tribune-Democrat
http://www.tribune-democrat.com/prosports/local_story_291235050.html

PITTSBURGH — Part of what makes Steelers safety Troy Polamalu so great is his recklessness on the football field.

He’s not afraid to take chances to make plays, whether it’s gambling with a last-second change in coverage or hurling his body like a projectile at an opponent.

But the five-time Pro Bowler took a big risk before the start of the Steelers’ 27-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Heinz Field.

That’s when Polamalu, who was set to play in his first game since spraining the MCL in his left knee a little more than a month ago, decided against wearing a knee brace. It was too restrictive, he said, so he took it off and played without it.

“When you’re tied down by a brace, it kind of constricts your other muscles and it makes you cramp up easier,” he said. “I tried to go in warmups (Sunday) with a brace, and it just wasn’t going to happen. There was no way I was going to keep up with any receiver. I kind of gambled a little bit. Thank God it worked out.”

Steelers fans must be saying the same thing.

Polamalu’s absence certainly was noticeable early in the season, as defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau could take far fewer chances without his star roaming the secondary.

Polamalu’s gamble paid early dividends on Sunday, as he intercepted a Joshua Cribbs pass near the end of the first quarter to thwart a Cleveland scoring opportunity.

There was a brief scare, as Polamalu appeared to hurt his knee again, but he said it was quite different from the previous injury.

“It wasn’t the MCL that was tweaked. Anytime you have a knee injury and hit it against the ground real hard, it’s pretty painful,” he said. “It's kind of like a pain that comes and you wait for that pain to go away. It wasn’t a twist. It was just hitting the surface pretty hard.

“Had it been (an artificial) turf field, it might have been different.”

Polamalu finished with two tackles, two assists and a pass defended. He was close to another interception, but teammate Ryan Clark ended up picking it off instead.

Not bad for a guy who - at least by his own standards - was a bit too tentative on the field.

“I think, at times, I was caught being a little cautious, but as the game progressed, I got more and more comfortable,” Polamalu said.

For one day, the gamble was worth it. But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the real results will be more clear today.

“I thought it was a good start,” he said of Polamalu’s return. “I think how he feels (today) will be critical as we move forward.”

How well Polamalu’s gamble pans out will go a long way in determining the odds of the Steelers repeating as Super Bowl champs.



Eric Knopsnyder is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat.