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Old 12-12-2010, 12:36 AM   #1
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Default Bires: Steelers' MVP candidate list a long one

Bires: Steelers' MVP candidate list a long one
By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times

Saturday December 11, 2010 11:28 PM

PITTSBURGH — Shortly after Christmas, the Steelers will sit down in a meeting room and cast votes for their Most Valuable Player. Right now, it’s difficult to predict who the winner may be.

There’s a few leading candidates for the award, but certainly no locks with three games left before the secret ballot.

And that epitomizes the way the Steelers’ season has gone.

At 9-3, they’re in great shape. Record-wise, they’re one of the NFL’s elite teams. They may clinch a playoff spot today. There’s a good chance they’ll win the AFC North for the third time in four years. There’s a good chance they’ll be the AFC’s No. 2 seed.

They’ve accomplished all that despite the Ben Roethlisberger suspension at the start of the season and a rash of injuries on both their offensive and defensive lines.

This has been a team that’s overcome adversity by truly buying into the team concept. It’s almost as if the Steelers have had a No. 1 star in each of their nine wins, ranging from an almost-forgotten quarterback like Charlie Batch to a bona fide star like Troy Polamalu.

“These guys legitimately embrace the concept that everybody in the helmet is a potential playmaker,” coach Mike Tomlin explained. “We don’t discount the contributions that come from anywhere. Young or old. Seasoned or naive. It doesn’t matter.

“The guys that are distributed helmets on game day have a job to do, and that’s to deliver plays in a timely manner. It’s encouraging to see it, but it’s not something that I believe these guys think. It’s something they believe.”

When asked who might be MVP on offense, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said “Team. It’s whoever steps up next.”

There have been a lot of positives of offense, starting with Roethlisberger, the team MVP last year. He’s sixth in the league in passer rating, and he proved what a tough customer he is by playing with a sprained foot and broken nose last week in Baltimore.
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There’s running back Rashard Mendenhall, who, with 1,007 yards through 12 games, has a chance to finish with one of the top five single-season rushing performances in franchise history.

A case can even be made for wide receiver Mike Wallace, who’s caught eight TDs passes.

But Arians is right. It’s unlikely the team MVP will come from someone on offense.

On defense, where the Steelers rank among the league leaders in several categories, the MVP frontrunners are linebacker James Harrison and Polamalu.

With 10 sacks, two interceptions and six forced fumbles, Harrison is having another great season. But a few weeks ago, Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler actually said that Lawrence Timmons was the best linebacker on the team.

Polamalu, who leads the team with four interceptions, certainly has made some game-changing plays the past two weeks. His late fourth-quarter interception probably saved the Steelers from an embarrassing loss in Buffalo. His sack and forced fumble put the Steelers in position to win in Baltimore.

Plus, Polamalu has never been named Steelers’ MVP before. Harrison has two MVPs on his resume (2007 and ‘08).

Obviously, winning games as a team is what matters most to every Steeler. But winning the MVP is something special, too.

Like Roethlisberger said last year, “Compared to any award I’ve ever won in the league, this tops them all because it’s from my teammates. It was touching. I had to hold back some emotions when coach said it.”

In a way, it might be appropriate if two players share the award like wide receiver Hines Ward and nose tackle Casey Hampton did in 2005 before the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

After all, the Steelers have had so many heroes this year that it might be difficult to single out just one.

Mike Bires can be reached at mbires@timesonline.com.
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