Gutierrez: Explaining my Polamalu Player of Year vote

February 1, 2011, 8:06 pm
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Paul Gutierrez

He did not have the most interceptions in the league. Didnt come close to boasting the most tackles.

But no player in the NFL made more game-changing plays and disrupted more opposing gameplans this past season than did Pittsburgh free safety Troy Polamalu. Which is why I was one of the 17 voters on the Associated Press nationwide panel of 50 selectors to cast a ballot for Polamalu as the leagues defensive player of the year.

That he won the award by two votes over Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews is somewhat serendipitous, what with Polamalus Steelers set to face Matthews Packers Sunday in Super Bowl XLV.

Both were first-team All-Pros on my ballot and, really, it came down to these two long-haired game-changers for defensive player of the year for me.

What swung it in Polamalus favor was his ability to make big plays at incredibly clutch times, none bigger than his sack of Baltimores Joe Flacco in which the Ravens quarterback fumbled late in the game on Dec. 5. Pittsburgh recovered, the Steelers scored with 2:51 to play to win, 13-10, took control of the AFC North division and never looked back en route to Arlington, Texas for the Super Bowl.

Polamalu also had a career high-tying seven interceptions -- he had four picks in a season-solidifying four-game winning streak for the Steelers -- returned the one off Cincinnatis Carson Palmer 45 yards for a touchdown, and stuck his nose in for 49 tackles. All in 14 games (he missed two games with ankle and Achilles tendon injuries).

Against the Raiders on Nov. 21, Polamalu doused Bruce Gradkowskis comeback hopes with a diving pick at the Steelers 8-yard line, returning it to the Pittsburgh 46, on the penultimate play of the third quarter. The Steelers led at the time, 21-3.

I never saw Polamalu, Gradkowski said the next day. I kind of thought (the ball) was just going to go into the ground right there. That sucker comes out of nowhere and takes it.

Polamalu, though, did not sneak up on anyone in being named the NFLs defensive player of the year award on Monday; he simply took it.