- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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BALTIMORE -- The visiting locker room had emptied out at M&T Bank Stadium late Sunday night with the exception of one player.
Before boarding the team bus, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin took one last peek inside the room and noticed a large group of media was still hovering around a locker while the shower was still running in the bathroom.
"You all waiting on Troy Polamalu to wash his hair?" asked a smiling Tomlin. "It's going to be a while."
Tomlin then walked over to the bathroom and screamed in the shower to Polamalu: "Are you washing your hair? I'm not leaving you, man. Take your time."
The entire Steelers team and the media were willing to wait for Polamalu, because he's always on time when it counts during the game.
Polamalu made another huge play Sunday night, forcing a fourth-quarter fumble by quarterback Joe Flacco that led to Pittsburgh's 13-10 come-from-behind victory over the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers (9-3) now have the inside track to win the AFC North over the Ravens (8-4) with a month left in the season.
Trailing 10-6 and with the Ravens facing second-and-5 from their 38-yard line, Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau called a "Cover Zero," which is a blitz with no safety help over the top. It was a gutsy call that could have resulted in a big play for Baltimore or Pittsburgh. But thanks to Polamalu, the game swung in Pittsburgh's favor.
The Steelers said they were anticipating a running play by the Ravens, who already led and could have run more time off the clock. But when Flacco dropped back to pass, Polamalu shot in unblocked on the quarterback's blind side and forced the ball out. Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley recovered and took it to the Baltimore 9, and Pittsburgh took the lead three plays later on a 9-yard touchdown pass to Issac Redman.
Polamalu's well-timed blitz could be the biggest play in Pittsburgh's regular season. It also could be the sequence that gives Pittsburgh at least one postseason game at Heinz Field and potentially a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Many players can make plays. But very few can make them consistently when the game is on the line.
That is the rare category that Polamalu is in.
"That's the thing; that's what makes him a star," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said of Polamalu, who had five tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.
"He watches film like no other player," said Steelers defensive end Ziggy Hood. "In practice, you can see that he knows exactly what to do. And when you see him flying around in practice, you just know he's going to do it in the game."
While Polamalu's teammates boarded the bus in a celebratory mood, Polamalu walked to his locker and the flock of media as though nothing happened. Polamalu expects to make special plays and spent his time crediting others.
"It was all Coach LeBeau," Polamalu said in a very quiet voice. "We were anticipating run, but Coach LeBeau remained a step ahead."
That's about all you're going to get out of Polamalu in terms of his personal greatness.
Last week, Polamalu saved the Steelers with a fourth-quarter interception that helped force overtime against the Buffalo Bills. This week he caused the fumble that may have won the division.
Few expected the Steelers to be in this position, especially after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger began the season on a four-game suspension. Now the Steelers control the AFC North with four games to go, thanks to No. 43.
"They were doubting us then [at the beginning of the season], and from what I hear the talking heads were doubting us [Sunday]," Clark said. "Nobody gave us a chance to win. I don't see how you do that, but they did. We like to fly under the radar and just play football."
Here are some other notes from Pittsburgh's win over the Ravens:
Should Baltimore have kicked a field goal? There will be a lot of debate this week about whether the Ravens should have attempted the potential game-tying field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-2 with less than a minute remaining in the game. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh declined to try about a 48-yard field goal and instead Flacco threw an incomplete pass. Harbaugh felt kicker Billy Cundiff needed a closer distance considering the weather.
"It was just a tough wind up there," Harbaugh said. "It was really outside of our range, as we designated going in. We felt like we had a better chance to get the first down."
Sepulveda likely done for the season: I talked with Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda after the game and he suspects he has a torn ACL in his right knee, which would sideline him for the season. The Steelers on Monday will have to confirm the severity of the injury. But Sepulveda said he knows exactly how the injury feels, because he has experienced it twice before. He was hurt in the first half and kicker Shaun Suisham had to punt for the remainder of the game.
More injuries: According to Tomlin, Roethlisberger suffered a broken nose after being hit in the face by Ravens Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata; Steelers tight end Heath Miller suffered a concussion and will have to be monitored before next week’s game; Pittsburgh right tackle Flozell Adams has a high ankle sprain; and Ravens tight end Todd Heap has a hamstring injury.
Upcoming schedule: Expect both teams to watch the standings closely. The Steelers and Ravens each play one team with a winning record in the final month, on Dec. 19. That week Pittsburgh plays host to the New York Jets (9-2), and Baltimore will play host to the New Orleans Saints (9-3). In their other remaining games, both teams will be heavily favored to win.
2hEric D. Williams