For The Tribune-Democrat
On the field, Troy Polamalu was his usual self with two interceptions, one of which he returned for a game-changing touchdown.
In the locker room, Polamalu was also his usual self, bemoaning his mistakes, in particular a wild lateral while returning his second interception.
“First and foremost,” Polamalu started, “I want to apologize for that play at the end of the game. It was incredibly arrogant and selfish. I represent something bigger than myself – my faith, my family, and this team. I’ll try to never let that happen again. It was just a very arrogant play.”
But, he was asked, what about the touchdown?
“I don’t know,” he said in such a hushed tone that one would’ve thought the Steelers had lost to the Cincinnati Bengals instead of won 23-7.
“Let’s just focus on the negative,” he said before finally smiling.
As for the touchdown, well, ho hum.
“I know you guys can’t be surprised at what he does every week, because he does it every week,” said James Farrior. “We’ve come to expect it from him.”
It may not happen every week, but Polamalu’s on quite a roll. In the past four games, Polamalu has returned an interception 38 yards to snuff out an Oakland rally, recovered a fumble and later intercepted a pass at his goal line to hold off Buffalo, and in Baltimore his sack/forced fumble late in the fourth quarter turned the game around against the Ravens. Throw in his game-changing play Sunday against the Bengals and Polamalu is the common thread in the Steelers’ four-game win streak.
“I’m glad Troy is on my team,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. “No one is playing as good as Troy Polamalu in football right now.”
Polamalu’s first interception Sunday came out of a cover-2 shell. Bengals receiver Terrell Owens ran a skinny post that Polamalu jumped at the Cincinnati 45.
“In cover-2, it’s really hard for the safety to get underneath that play,” explained safety Will Allen. “A skinny post is designed to hit in between the linebacker and the safety. It’s designed to hit right behind the linebacker, so he just jumped it. And if you decide to go get the pick, you’d better get the pick.”
Polamalu got the pick off his old college roommate, Carson Palmer, and, as he had in 2004, Polamalu took aim at Palmer near the goal line.
“I wanted to see Troy bowl him over again,” said Farrior.
Palmer clipped Polamalu near the Cincinnati
5 and he needed to dive over the pylon for the tying touchdown.
Polamalu aggravated an ankle injury on the play but stayed in the game, albeit hobbled.
He wasn’t too hobbled, though, to read Palmer for the interception in the fourth quarter, his sixth of the season. Polamalu recklessly lateraled the ball, but it was recovered by teammate Bryant McFadden at the Pittsburgh 12.
“Troy was just trying to share the love a little bit,” said Brett Keisel. “He’s so used to having the spotlight I think he was trying to let someone else take it to the crib.”
A bit earlier in the fourth quarter, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was telling linebacker Larry Foote that Polamalu should win a second consecutive AFC Defensive Player of the Week award. Foote argued that the award should go to LaMarr Woodley.
“Then he got that second pick,” said Roethlisberger. “I looked at Foote and he said, “Co-Defensive Players of the Week.”
Polamalu would prefer the award go to the entire unit.
“I think our defense is playing good as a whole,” he said. “Whenever you get a good pass rush and whenever the D-line is stopping the run, we’re able to make a lot of plays on the back end.”