View Full Version : Cook: Steelers' Polamalu has more to give

09-16-2010, 12:17 AM
Cook: Steelers' Polamalu has more to give
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
By Ron Cook, Post-Gazette

His Steelers teammates were long gone Sunday, off into the night to start their celebrations, when All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu finally emerged from the shower. It was more than an hour after the 15-9 overtime victory against the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field. There is no truth to the rumor that Polamalu needed that long to deal with his $1 million hair. None at all.

Although that news might not surprise you, this rebuttal to a little more widespread, unsubstantiated speculation might: Polamalu did not play a good game.

Here's The Man Himself:

"Other than the one play, it wasn't what I thought it should have been."

That "one play" was terrific, of course. It should have won the game for the Steelers in regulation. With 1:45 left, Polamalu used his incredible closing speed -- "His zero-to-60," teammate Bryant McFadden called it -- to get to and step in front of a pass in the right flat for Falcons wide receiver Roddy White. The interception was spectacular enough. That Polamalu got his feet down inbounds in Lynn Swann-like fashion at the Falcons' 30 made it seem almost otherworldly. What a shame that Steelers kicker Jeff Reed missed a 40-yard field goal a few plays later.

The effort by Polamalu had his teammates talking afterward. "No one else makes that play," linebacker James Farrior said. "I told [Larry] Foote that Troy is the greatest player I ever played with. Foote couldn't come up with anyone any better." It had the Falcons talking. "Thought I made a pretty good throw, but, against him, you have to be perfect," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. Here's guessing it had the hair-products people who built a wonderful advertising campaign around Polamalu's hair talking the most. They look like geniuses for insuring that famous hair for $1 million.

And what did Polamalu have to say about the play?

Typically, not so much.

"I got lucky."

Polamalu was more concerned about his mistakes. There were a bunch, he said. Missed assignments and missed tackles. "Yeah, especially the pass down the middle to [tight end] Tony Gonzalez [that went for a 20-yard gain in the third quarter]. That could have been a game-changer. If that had been a receiver, it could have gone for a touchdown ...

"I don't know what it was. A lack of focus. A lack of intensity. I just don't know."

I know exactly what it was. How about a lack of playing time? Polamalu hadn't been in a real game since Nov. 15. He missed the final seven games last season because of a left knee injury. Even a superstar needs time to get back on top of his game. Polamalu will be better Sunday in Tennessee against the Titans and better the Sunday after that in Tampa, Fla., against the Buccaneers.

"I'm just happy to make it out of the first game healthy," he said.

No kidding.

It was in the opening game last season against the Titans that Polamalu first injured his knee. Talk about a freak thing. When he bent down to pick up the loose football after teammate Aaron Smith blocked a Titans field-goal try, his left leg was rolled on by Tennessee tight end Alge Crumpler. The timing couldn't have been worse for the Steelers. Polamalu had played a sensational first half, closing as only he can to throw the Titans' great Chris Johnson for a 2-yard loss on a running play, then making a one-handed interception of a pass thrown by Tennessee quarterback Kerry Collins. It looked as if he were going to have some year.

But no.

Polamalu missed four games and came back to play in four before his knee was re-injured against the Cincinnati Bengals. This time, he was done for the season. Do you think the Steelers missed him? In the five games he played, they forced 10 turnovers. In the 11 games he missed, they had just 12 turnovers.

Now, it's the 2010 season and Polamalu created the one turnover forced by the Steelers. Do you notice a trend here?

"No one on this team is Troy," Steelers safety Ryan Clark once said. "When God made him, he touched him a couple of extra times."

Note to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau: Keep Polamalu healthy, will ya?

Next up is that game at Tennessee and Polamalu already is freakin' out. Not because he worries about another injury. Because the Titans are tough at home; they're 8-1 against the Steelers in Nashville. And because Johnson is such a handful; he rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns in the Titans' easy win Sunday against the Oakland Raiders after running for an NFL-best 2,006 yards last season despite getting just 57 on 15 carries in that opening game against the Steelers.

"You just can't give him a crease or he's gone," Polamalu said. "We have such a huge challenge with their running game. It's going to be interesting to see what they do with their play-action stuff with [quarterback] Vince Young. If we can't stop their run, we're not going to have a chance."

And another thing ...

If Polamalu doesn't play better than he did Sunday, the Steelers won't have a chance.

Here's a little speculation that you can believe:

He will.

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