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Just a step slower with no excuses - Troy Polamalu

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Troy Polamalu sat at the podium to answer questions following the Pittsburgh Steelers loss in Super Bowl XLV to the Green Bay Packers. Twice the NFL representative standing next to him asked if he wanted to go.

"I'm fine," Polamalu said, and looked back to answer more.

Polamalu did not look fine on the field, though. In fact, the way he played made it seem as if he was anything but fine.

Some plays he was a step slow, others he guessed wrong. At some of the most crucial times of the game, Polamalu played deep center field, not rushing the passer with fierce abandon like he often does. Not having Polamalu in position to rush the passer seemed to indicate one thing: He was not his usual explosive self - not able to accelerate like he needed to.

Polamalu played like an injured man, and for a good part of the season he struggled with a strained right Achilles' tendon. Polamalu initially hurt the Achilles in a Nov 14 loss to New England but kept playing. He reinjured and aggravated it in a Dec 12 win over Cincinnati and missed the next two games. He returned for the season finale against Cleveland and played in the playoffs, but did not seem like his usual self.

In the Super Bowl, he candidly admitted defensive failures were "especially me in particular," and said "I was a step off here and there."

A step off for Polamalu is big. He also was a step off against Baltimore in the Divisional Round -- Ray Rice ran over him on a touchdown and a step late on a pass which set up a Ravens TD -- and at times a step off against the Jets. When Polamalu is a step off, it's the Steelers defense a step off.

"It was the healthiest I've ever been," Polamalu said when asked if he was injured. "The best I've felt probably since mid season."

That may indicate how bad Polamalu felt in December rather than how good he felt in the Super Bowl. A guy who relies on quickness and explosion lacks quickness and explosion if his foot is hurt -- or if he is afraid of a more serious injury if he does push the limit, like a torn Achilles.

But Polamalu is not about excuses.

He is about accountability.

And to hear him say it, Pittsburgh Steelers defense failures began and ended with him.

"We tried to do some creative things; I did. It didn't work out. I put our guys in some very tough situations there."

Polamalu was there on Green Bay's touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings, but he was late.

"I had an opportunity to make a play," he said.

But he didn't.

In the fourth quarter, Polamalu admitted he "guessed wrong" on a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Jennings to give the Packers a 28-17 lead.

"Completely my fault," he said.

It seemed like frustration at the Steelers' inability to consistently stop the Packers caused him to err on other plays. Polamalu said the Packers took advantage of a formation when they lined up three receivers wide and threw back to the single receiver on the other side of the field.

That caused him, he said, to try to play "cover zero," which means man-to-man with no deep safety help. Polamalu played that coverage on a key third-and-10 in the fourth quarter, which he said left Jordy Nelson open on a crossing route for a 38-yard gain which set up the TD to Jennings. The completion came with Pittsburgh down 21-17, when a third-down stop may have been the game-changer.

Polamalu said the way Green Bay spreads its offense, the best thing a safety can do is play deep center-field.

"Just not allow big plays," he said. "Hopefully get in a position where there could be an overthrow."

Troy Polamalu playing for an overthrow? It just does not sound right, not for a guy who attacks.

"He (Polamalu) was on the field," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "They made plays."

Asked if Polamalu made an impact, Tomlin said: "I'll let you be the judge."

Tomlin was not being critical of his players or player. He said he thought Green Bay just played better.

"It's probably less about what we were unable to do and more what they were able to do," Tomlin said. "Such is the case in the greatest game in this game. We can sit here and make excuses, you guys can, and I will not. What I will do is say Green Bay played a really good football game and made the necessary plays to be champs."

Pittsburgh's defense is used to forcing the issue, though. Used to making plays to force turnovers and change momentum. Instead, the Steelers got no turnovers while Green Bay got three. Although the Packers did not convert as many third downs as the Steelers, they seemed to come up with the big conversion when they needed it.

"Their defense outplayed our defense," Polamalu said. "It's incredibly humbling."

The loss does not fall on Polamalu, and to even imply it does would be wrong.

But to imply he was himself also is wrong. Polamalu is not a guy the football world is accustomed to seeing a step off. Nor is the world accustomed to seeing a man make no excuses and give credit where and when due.


Super Bowl XLV  
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