He's Back: Polamalu's pick sends message

Troy Polamalu made the big play at a time when the defense would've wilted last year. His teammates talked about what Polamalu's return meant in their 15-9 OT win.

According to the play-by-play account of the Steelers' 15-9 overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons, Troy Polamalu's brilliant interception late in the fourth quarter had no bearing on which team won – considering the Steelers missed the subsequent 40-yard field goal attempt.

But, of course, that's believed only by people who missed last season, when the Steelers blew 6 fourth-quarter leads while Polamalu was on the sideline with a knee injury.

Obviously, the play-by-play account from Sunday's win doesn't tell the whole story.

"That was a big pick for us," said James Farrior. "Last year we didn't have Troy out there to deliver those plays. It's good to have him back."

Farrior then chuckled and spoke with a swagger that was also missing last year.

"I don't know what the quarterback was thinking," Farrior said. "When you see 43, don't throw that way."

Polamalu jumped in front of the same down-and-out pass Falcons QB Matt Ryan had been throwing to Roddy White all game. The interception occurred at the Atlanta 31 with 1:40 left in a tie game. White finished the game with 13 catches for 111 yards, and he'd been targeted an additional 10 times. He was just about all Falcons coordinator Mike Mularkey had left in his arsenal after the Steelers effectively took tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Michael Turner out of the game.

"We rolled the coverages down to Gonzalez," Farrior said. "We thought he was going to be their big guy today."

And Polamalu was the main cog in the Steelers' defense of Gonzalez. But Polamalu was growing bored with his role.

"He was on the sidelines wanting to get more involved and wanting to roam a little more rather than be locked down on Tony," said Brett Keisel. "Finally coach made a call and Troy made a great read and a great catch."

Coordinator Dick LeBeau made the call that either Polamalu or Will Gay could jump the out route run by White, as cornerback Bryant McFadden dropped into a safety-type position.

"I asked Willie Gay if I could have it," said Polamalu. "And he said yes."

It was the same option LeBeau gave his defensive backs two years ago, when Deshea Townsend also agreed to let Polamalu have the outside receiver. But the Cowboys threw inside and Townsend intercepted the pass and was the hero of a late win.

This time, Polamalu jumped the route and dragged his feet for the interception.

"Coach LeBeau made a great call, and we just executed to the best of our ability," Polamalu said.

In a battle of humility between a Hall of Fame coach and a future Hall of Fame player, LeBeau naturally deflected Polamalu's praise.

"It's the way it was designed, but Troy made it work," LeBeau said. "He's a great player. I'm a lot smarter when he's in there."

Farrior said that after the interception, Polamalu went to the sideline and said a few prayers of thanks. But Keisel heard Polamalu say something else.

"I'm the greatest safety of all time!" Keisel roared. "No, I'm kidding. He didn't say that. He didn't say anything. He never does. He's the type of player that lurks and waits for those types of situations to make a huge play in the game. That's just the type of guy he is."

He's also the type of guy who appreciates his good health a bit more after last season.

"In this game I've learned you really have to count your blessings, whether it's one play, one moment," said Polamalu. "These types of clichés you tell yourself, you live by as a football player, but when you go through some adversity like I did throughout my career you learn to appreciate things more. Hopefully this can carry on throughout the next game. But I'm just happy to make it out of this game."

So, too, are his teammates, his coaches, and his many fans.

(Read Troy Polamalu's entire interview with the press here on our message board.)

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