Polamalu makes it through game without issue
BALTIMORE — Troy Polamalu didn't impact the Steelers-Baltimore rematch with a thunderous blow, but the veteran safety delivered the necessary leadership in helping the Steelers keep their playoff chances afloat with a 23-20 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
Polamalu, playing for the first time since Oct. 7, made it through the AFC North showdown without aggravating a still-tender right calf. He didn't appear to be at full strength, yet his resiliency was reflective of a gutsy performance by a No. 1-ranked defense that slammed the door on the division-leading Ravens in the pivotal fourth quarter.
The Steelers, who have been challenged to gather turnovers, frustrated Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. He tossed an interception and fumbled when sacked by James Harrison — a takeaway that enabled the Steelers to tie the score, 20-20, with 7:24 to play.
While Polamalu was easing his way back, workhorse cornerback Ike Taylor left the game on Baltimore's first possession with a right ankle injury. As a consequence, the Steelers indoctrinated second-year corners Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown into one of the league's most heated rivalries.
“We persevered through a lot of adversity,” said Polamalu, who finished with two solo tackles. “The corners stepped up, and they've been the difference why this defense has been successful.”
Polamalu had played only five quarters all season and missed nine games. He seemed surprised to finish the game unscathed.
“I was very happy to make it through the day,” Polamalu said. “I went in with zero expectations, so I would have been happy to make it through two series unlike against Philadelphia (eight) weeks ago.
“Before the game started, I was sitting with the strength and conditioning coach thinking there was nothing more they could have done to prepare me more.”
The Steelers, though, appeared prepared when Taylor limped to the sidelines after breaking up a deep ball to Torrey Smith early in the first quarter. His replacements helped hold Flacco to one of his worse outings this season — 16 of 34 passing for 188 yards.
“We had to get pressure on him, and we took away those big throws,” cornerback Keenan Lewis said. “That's his game, and it's how his gets the momentum going, but we eliminated that in the second half.”
It was baptism under fire for Allen. But with Polamalu, Taylor and Lewis encouraging him throughout, he settled in.
“I told them to be calm and just play,” Lewis said. “We have one of the best receiving corps in the league, so going up against those guys every day, then coming out here was like practice.”
Allen committed a 30-yard pass interference penalty, then surrendered to Anquan Boldin a 31-yard catch and 28-yard scoring pass that put Baltimore up, 13-3, with 3:16 left in the first half.
“During the course of the game, I had some ups and downs,” said Allen, who defended three passes and had five tackles. “It was important to stay mentally tough and sound to my technique.
“As a cornerback, you have to have a short memory. I won some and lost some, but I stayed consistent and positive in the second half.”
Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7923