12 Greatest Plays of Troy Polamalu's Pittsburgh Steelers Career

Mike Batista@Steel_TweetsContributor INovember 14, 2013

Troy Polamalu has made seven Pro Bowls.
Troy Polamalu has made seven Pro Bowls.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Troy Polamalu has been both stylish and functional in his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Many of Polamalu's greatest plays have been both jaw-dropping and timely. He's risen to the occasion when the Steelers have needed him most.

The 32-year-old Polamalu is entering the latter stages of a career that's included two championships, seven Pro Bowls and four First-Team All-Pro honors.

Now is a good time to reflect on his best moments.

These plays are ranked based on their athleticism as well as their significance to the Steelers' success. The bigger the stage, the higher a play is likely to be ranked.


Honorable Mention: Touchdown in Indy

Sept. 25, 2011

The Steelers and Indianapolis Colts were tied 13-13 when James Harrison sacked Curtis Painter and forced a fumble.

Polamalu picked it up, looking for a moment like he was dribbling a basketball, and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown and a 20-13 Steelers lead with five minutes left in the game.

The Steelers allowed Painter to drive 80 yards and tie the game, but won it 23-20 on Shaun Suisham's field goal with four seconds left to improve to 2-1.

This deserves a mention because it's one of four touchdowns Polamalu has scored in his career, but it doesn't make the top dozen because it came in a win over a 2-14 team.

And for crying out loud, the Steelers shouldn't have needed one of Polamalu's greatest plays to beat Curtis Painter.

 Honorable Mention: Interception at Philadelphia

Sept. 21, 2008

This interception is worthy of the highlight reel, but to make the list of Polamalu's greatest plays, it needs to come in a Steelers win.

The Steelers lost this game at Philadelphia 15-6, even though it was just a speed bump on their way to their sixth championship.

With the Steelers trailing 10-6 early in the third quarter, Bryant McFadden broke up Kevin Kolb's pass and the ball shot into the air. Polamalu dove for the interception, catching the ball just before it hit the ground.

Since the Steelers lost this game, however, it was forgettable.

It was one of seven interceptions in 2008 for Polamalu. He would make a similar one later in the season.

 No. 12: Matty Ice Gets Picked

Sept. 12, 2010

This wasn't a dazzling play, but it's memorable enough to make the list because it came at a critical juncture in this game and pointed the Steelers in the direction of Super Bowl XLV in their season-opening win.

With the game tied 9-9, the Falcons had the ball at their own 21 with two timeouts and 1:45 remaining in regulation. On the first play of the drive, Troy Polamalu intercepted Matt Ryan at the Falcons' 31, gained a yard and went out of bounds.

The game went to overtime when Jeff Reed missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt. The Falcons won the coin toss, but the Steelers forced them to punt and Rashard Mendenhall ran 50 yards for the game-winning touchdown on the Steelers' first offensive play of OT.

Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season, so the Steelers needed stay afloat during his absence.

Having the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year helped, and the first of his seven interceptions gave them a boost in this game.

 No. 11: Troy Gets a Tip in Buffalo

Nov. 28, 2010

Once again during their run to Super Bowl XLV, the Steelers easily could have come down on the wrong side of that paper-thin margin between victory and defeat.

The Steelers led the Buffalo Bills 16-13 at Buffalo with three minutes left in regulation, but the Bills had the ball at the Steelers' 12. Steve Johnson couldn't hold onto a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass near the goal line, sending the ball into the air. Troy Polamalu dove for the interception at the Steelers' 1 and returned it to the 6.

Polamalu's pick prevented the Bills from taking the lead, even if they did kick a field goal to send the game into overtime.

While Polamalu saved the Steelers in regulation, their luck saved them in OT. They punted from their own 1 and Leodis McKelvin fumbled the return 15 yards backwards to put the ball on the Bills' 34. Later, Johnson dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone.

Shaun Suisham's 41-yard field goal gave the Steelers a 19-16 win over the lowly Bills and improved their record to 8-3 going into an AFC North showdown at Baltimore the following week.

 No. 10: Fumbling Favre

Nov. 6, 2005

This isn't Troy Polamalu's most eye-popping play, but it makes the top 10 because it's his longest return of an interception or fumble.

Playing their first of three straight games without Ben Roethlisberger, who was out with a knee injury, the Steelers led 6-3 early in the second quarter. The Packers had the ball at the Steelers' 12-yard line and were in position to at least tie the game when Polamalu stepped in.

Brett Favre avoided being sacked by Polamalu, but his escape route led him right to Bryant McFadden, who forced the fumble. Polamalu scooped it up and ran 77 yards for the touchdown and a 13-3 Steelers lead.

The Steelers improved to 6-2 with this win and took another step toward winning Super Bowl XL.

 No 9: Roommate Reunion

Dec. 12, 2010

The Steelers came out flat after dramatically defeating the Ravens the previous week at Baltimore.

They trailed the 2-10 Cincinnati Bengals 7-0 with less than five minutes left in the first half at Heinz Field.

That's when Troy Polamalu pick-sixed Carson Palmer, his roommate at USC, for the second time in his career.

Polamalu's 45-yard touchdown tied the game 7-7 and woke up the Steelers, who went on to win 23-7 and maintain the inside track on winning the AFC North.

Palmer's diving tackle attempt was the last hurdle Polamalu had to clear before reaching the end zone. This play would be ranked higher if Polamalu's path to the end zone required a few more twists and turns.

 No. 8: Leveling TO

Nov. 8, 2010

Troy Polamalu didn't have to do much on this play to save the day.

The Steelers were in danger of blowing a 20-point lead for the first time in franchise history in this Monday-night game at Cincinnati. They clung to a 27-21 lead when Carson Palmer completed a 20-yard pass to Terrell Owens at the Steelers' 17 with 1:09 left.

Owens would have easily scored a touchdown were it not for Polamalu's sudden and thunderous stop.

Polamalu was in the right place at the right time, so he didn't have to fly across the field to get to Owens. Rather, he looked like a brick wall as knocked Owens to the ground.

The Bengals still had a new set of downs and reached the 12, but the Steelers stopped them on fourth down and avoided a humiliating loss to a team that eventually finished 4-12.

It's a good thing the Steelers won this game. They lost the previous week at New Orleans and the following week at home to New England. Had they blown this one, they'd have lost three in a row. Instead, they improved to 6-2 for the fourth time in six seasons.

No 7: Stopping Flacco on Fourth Down 

Jan. 18, 2009

Most of Troy Polamalu's signature leaps over the line of scrimmage are worthy of being scored by gymnastics judges.

Not this one.

This play in the 2008 AFC Championship game wasn't picturesque, but it does get high marks for grit and determination.

Polamalu didn't quite clear the bodies at the line of scrimmage when the Ravens went for it on 4th-and-1 from the Steelers' 34, but he surfed the pile like he was in a mosh pit and grabbed Joe Flacco. Despite not being on his feet, Polamalu managed to keep Flacco from moving forward and the Ravens turned the ball over on downs with the Steelers leading 6-0 late in the first quarter.

Later in the game, Polamalu would again add to his career highlight reel.

 No. 6: First Career Pick-Six vs. Cincinnati

Oct. 3, 2004

Seeing this play was almost like seeing a band play at a bar before that band makes it big.

Troy Polamalu's breakout NFL moment came at the expense of Carson Palmer, who was then a rookie.

It was the first time the football world was treated to the phenomenon of Polamalu intercepting a pass, then bobbing and weaving his way to the end zone, dodging multiple would-be tacklers with his hair trailing him like a comet's tail of fire.

And it was more than just a spectacle. This play came at a big moment.

The Bengals trailed the Steelers 21-17 and had the ball at their own 20 with 2:19 left when Polamalu intercepted Palmer for the first pick-six of his career. He returned it 26 yards to secure the 28-17 win.

The Steelers improved to 3-1 behind rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Who could have known at the time it was just the second of 14 straight wins for the Steelers?

 No. 5: One-Handed Interception vs. Tennessee

Sept. 10, 2009

Troy Polamalu played in only five games during an injury-riddled 2009 season. But he almost packed a season's worth of highlights into the first half of the opener.

As defending Super Bowl champions, the Steelers hosted the Tennessee Titans on the Thursday-night stage to start the season. Polamalu made six tackles, broke up two passes and intercepted this Kerry Collins pass with one hand.

Late in the first quarter of a scoreless game, Collins threw a deep pass to Kenny Britt. Polamalu picked it out of the air at the Steelers' 5-yard line and returned it 16 yards.

Polamalu sprained his left medial collateral ligament on a blocked field goal late in the second quarter, which essentially ruined his season as well as the Steelers' title defense.

He missed 11 games that year as the Steelers finished a disappointing 9-7. But he provided enough of a lift to help them win their season opener 13-10 in overtime.

 No. 4: Leaping the Line of Scrimmage at Tennessee

Sept. 19, 2010

Troy Polamalu helped carry the Steelers through Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension at the start of the 2010 season. In doing so, this was his most acrobatic highlight.

The Steelers led 19-3 at Tennessee with 1:13 left, but the Titans were making things interesting. They had a 1st-and-goal at the Steelers' 1.

Then it was Polamalu to the rescue, and he looked like a superhero flying through the air as he timed the snap and leaped over the line of scrimmage to drop Titans quarterback Kerry Collins for a 1-yard loss.

The Titans scored a touchdown 10 seconds later, made the two-point conversion, recovered the onside kick and reached the Steelers' 31 with 20 seconds left. But that was as close as they'd get. The most spectacular of Polamalu's signature line-of-scrimmage leaps cost the Titans precious seconds.

The Steelers won 19-11 and improved to 2-0. They went 3-1 in Roethlisberger's absence in what turned out to be a Super Bowl season.

 No. 3: Fingertip Interception vs. San Diego

Nov. 16, 2008

This was Polamalu's hardest play to believe, even if you saw it.

On the opening drive of this game at Heinz Field, Vincent Jackson couldn't hold on to a pass from Philip Rivers. Polamalu dove for the ball and controlled it with one hand just before it hit the ground.

The difference between an interception and an incomplete pass on this play paralleled the Steelers' margin of victory in this 11-10 game. If there ever was a game when one point didn't reflect how close it really was, this was it.

The Steelers needed a Jeff Reed field goal with 15 seconds left to pull it out. They entered this game having lost two of their previous three and needed all the help they could get, including Polamalu's interception, to improve to 7-3.

This victory sparked a five-game winning streak for the Steelers on their way to their sixth Super Bowl victory.

The only way a play could rank higher than this is if the stakes were higher. On two occasions, they were.

 No. 2: The Flacco Chop

Dec. 5, 2010

The Steelers were in trouble.

They were losing 10-6 to the Ravens in Baltimore with 3:22 left. The Ravens had the ball at their own 43 and just had to milk the clock.

The Steelers already had lost to the Ravens in 2010. A loss in this game would almost certainly put the AFC North title out of reach and send the Steelers on the road for a wild-card playoff game.

Troy Polamalu wasn't going to let that happen.

He came around the left side unblocked and hacked Joe Flacco's throwing arm, knocking the ball loose. LaMarr Woodley recovered the fumble and returned it to the Ravens' 9.

Ben Roethlisberger eventually threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Redman, and the Steelers held on for a 13-10 win.

The Steelers improved to 9-3. They went on to win the AFC North and earn a first-round playoff bye, paving the way to Super Bowl XL.

 No. 1: Pick-Six in 2008 AFC championship game

Jan. 18, 2009

The Steelers weren't in as much peril as they were when Troy Polamalu strip-sacked Joe Flacco at Baltimore two years later, but they were in a precarious spot.

They led 13-0 in the first half at Heinz Field, but the Ravens pulled to within 16-14 on a touchdown in the fourth quarter, then forced a three-and-out.

With less than five minutes left, the Ravens had an opportunity to run out the clock and set up a game-winning field-goal attempt. But they faced 3rd-and-13 from their own 29, and Flacco threw a pass to Derrick Mason that would have given them a first down.

Polamalu intercepted the pass. This turned out to be the greatest play of his career because his second-greatest play wouldn't be remembered without Woodley's return and Roethlisberger's touchdown pass.

This play was all Polamalu.

After intercepting the pass, Polamalu deftly ran across the field to set up blockers for a 40-yard return that just about secured the trip to Super Bowl XLIII.

Two weeks later, the Steelers won an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl.


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