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mesaSteeler
01-03-2011, 06:26 AM
Polamalu's return makes defense whole
Monday, January 03, 2011
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11003/1115232-87.stm

CLEVELAND -- You have to give Steelers linebacker James Farrior credit. He keeps coming up with new ways to describe safety Troy Polamalu and what he means to the defense. One week, he called him "the most instinctive player I've seen at any position." Another week, he praised his football I.Q.: "He studies so hard and prepares so well that he knows what the other team is going to run." Finally, in what seemed like the topper a few weeks ago after Polamalu returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals, he gushed, "He's the best player I've ever been around, bar none."

But Farrior was there again Sunday, ready for the Polamalu question after Polamalu made one of the two big plays that led to a satisfying and playoff seeding-pleasing 41-9 win against the woeful Cleveland Browns. He didn't disappoint.

"Having him back there changes our whole attitude as a defense," Farrior said. "He keeps doing what he's doing and it gives us a different type of confidence. I don't know what it is. With him back there, there's just this feeling that everything's going to be all right."

So it was for the Steelers in a game that wrapped up their AFC North Division title and the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.

Polamalu said he was told by coach Mike Tomlin Saturday that he would play. He had aggravated a lower leg injury on that second-quarter interception return against the Bengals and, though finishing that game, missed the next two against the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers. There was speculation Tomlin would keep him out against the Browns to make sure he was ready for the playoffs, but Tomlin said it was an easy call to play him after he was cleared by doctors.

"Early in the week, I didn't think he'd make it," Farrior said. "But I talked to him later on and he said there was no way he was missing this game."

Polamalu came through it just fine, calling it a day at halftime when the Steelers led, 31-3. "I felt really good today ... a lot better than I thought I would." But even if Polamalu had hurt his leg again, it would have been the right decision to play him. You can't take anything for granted when a first-round playoff bye and a second-round home game are at stake.

It didn't take Polamalu long to make an impact. On the Browns' second play, he made a diving interception at the Steelers' 44 after the ball bounced off tight end Benjamin Watson's hands. Tomlin and Polamalu made it sound so easy, almost lucky, both saying that Polamalu was "in the right place at the right time." But it's not luck when the big plays keep happening.

"He never misses his opportunities," Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "You'll see other guys drop an interception. He ain't dropping it."

Do you think the interception inspired the Steelers?

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace on the next play and the rout was on.

The interception was Polamalu's seventh this season, matching his career high set in 2008, when, coincidentally, the Steelers blew out the Browns in their final regular-season game to take the division title and the No. 2 seed for the playoffs. They went on to win Super Bowl XLIII.

I'm just tellin' ya.

"Like coach Tomlin said, this [division championship] is just a piece of hardware you pick up along the way to where you want to go," Polamalu said.

That would be to Super Bowl XLV Feb. 7 in Dallas.

"Now," Polamalu said, "the tournament starts."

If there were any doubts that Polamalu would be ready even after his interception, he put an end to them by nearly making a spectacular athletic play on the first play of the second quarter. Remember how he timed the snap perfectly and leaped over Tennessee guard Leroy Harris to tackle quarterback Kerry Collins for a 1-yard loss on a sneak way back in September? He almost did the same thing to Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, jumping over the left guard-center gap to get "a piece of his shoulder pad" as McCoy scurried away to safety.

"A lot of things go into a play like that," Polamalu said. "Part of it is guessing. Part of it is film study. Part of it is trying to get in coach [Dick] LeBeau's head to try to figure out what he's thinking with his defensive call ...

"But most of the time, it's just guessing."

You should have seen Polamalu grin.

It seemed like everyone in the Steelers' locker room was grinning.

The great Polamalu had made it through the afternoon healthy and will be ready to go in that first playoff game.

Now, all of Steelers Nation is grinning.
First published on January 3, 2011 at 12:00 am


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