By Mike Prisuta
Thursday, September 21, 2006
It was a play that could have changed the game.
It was a play Troy Polamalu could have made, if only ...
Second-and-five from the Jacksonville 13-yard line, Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich looked for wide receiver Reggie Williams on a flanker screen along the near sideline.
Polamalu, the Steelers' All-Pro strong safety, anticipated the play, jumped the route and deflected the ball with his left hand but failed to intercept it.
That's how close a 3-0, fourth-quarter Jaguars lead came to turning into a 7-3 Steelers advantage.
"I reached out there with my right arm," Polamalu said Wednesday, the Steelers' first day back at practice following Monday night's 9-0 loss. "I think if I would have had maybe about three or four more inches, which I probably could have (if I were) healthy, but who knows if I would have even caught the ball, anyway, you know?"
What's certain is Polamalu is playing at less than 100 percent efficiency -- to the extent that his gait is noticeably different on and off the field due to a right shoulder injury sustained in the Steelers' 28-17, season-opening win over Miami on Sept. 7.
"You guys have seen it, I guess," Polamalu said to a media assemblage. "It's just tough to let my arm hang, in general. If walking is tough, tackling (Jacksonville's) Fred Taylor or any running back for that matter is always going to be tough."
Polamalu opened last week listed as questionable on the Steelers' injury report but was quickly upgraded to probable.
He characterized his injury prior to the Jacksonville game as "a bone bruise, a shoulder contusion and something with my bursa sac."
It's not a condition Polamalu anticipates having to deal with all season.
"I'm sure it'll go away, God willing," he said yesterday.
The Steelers had to adjust the way Polamalu attacked in Jacksonville, and they might have to do so again when Cincinnati visits Heinz Field on Sunday.
"He still made the correct reads, the correct calls," cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "You probably didn't see him just throwing his body in there as much because of the shoulder, but he still went out there and played a good game.
"Certain defenses where he might have had the chance to sacrifice his body, he might have sent (free safety) Ryan (Clark). That allowed him to play that much longer."
Polamalu finished with three tackles and two passes defended.