Talk about a waste of $33 million.
"They don't need me," Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said, grinning.
They didn't yesterday, anyway. They didn't need Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Casey Hampton and Bryant McFadden, either. They still beat the Seattle Seahawks -- with no help from the officials, it should be noted -- with the type of terrific team effort that used to leave former coach Bill Cowher gushing, "I've never been more prouder."
New coach Mike Tomlin, who couldn't ask for much more than this 21-0 masterpiece or his team's 4-1 record heading into its bye week, speaks a little better publicly than Cowher but essentially made the same point.
"They showed their character today. It is something that I knew we had."
It wasn't just that the Steelers won. It was the way they dominated a very good opponent without their top two receivers and, some would say, their two best defensive players. At one point in the first half, Ward, Polamalu and Hampton -- all out with injuries and in street clothes -- were standing on the sideline with Holmes, who pulled a hamstring in warm-ups. It's not all that difficult to imagine that picture being taken in Hawaii in February at the Pro Bowl.
"Our backups could start on a lot of other teams," defensive end Aaron Smith said.
Backups? Did the man say backups?
"We don't like to be called backups," nose tackle Chris Hoke said. "We're 1B."
On this day, they were A-OK.
Nate Washington and Cedrick Wilson got the starts at wide receiver in place of Ward and Holmes, and Willie Reid -- who didn't even dress for the first four games -- was the No. 3 and only other wide receiver. Ben Roethlisberger still completed 18 of 22 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown. Willie Parker still ran for 102 tough yards against a defense that loaded up to stop him in light of the wideout problems. The Steelers still were able to put together second-half touchdown drives that covered 80 and 85 yards and ate 10:17 and 8:06 of clock.
But the defensive 1Bs were even more impressive, especially in the first half when the game was up for grabs. Hoke started for Hampton, the man he called "the best nose guard in the league." Anthony Smith got the start in the secondary for the incomparable Polamalu, the highest-paid player in franchise history since he signed his $33 million deal in July. Defensive backs William Gay and Tyrone Carter got plenty of playing time when the Steelers went to their specialty groupings.
"That's probably the best game I've ever seen our defense play," Polamalu said.
What were the odds of the Steelers pitching a shutout? This was the first time the Seahawks were shut out since the 2000 opener at Miami and just their second shutout in coach Mike Holmgren's nine seasons.
What were the odds of the Steelers holding running back Shaun Alexander -- a former NFL MVP -- to 25 yards on 11 carries? This was easily his worst day since he had 18 yards on 11 carries against the Denver Broncos in '02, if you discount his six-carry, 9-yard performance against the Washington Redskins in the '05 playoffs when he left in the first quarter with a concussion.
What were the odds of the Steelers holding Alexander to a long run of 8 yards? He came in with an NFL-record 68 consecutive games with at least one run of 10 yards or more.
"I guess that streak is over, huh?" Hoke asked, grinning.
All in all, amazing.
"What's really amazing is that we were able to stop their run without the safeties," Polamalu said. "We played almost all cover-2."
That seemed to confuse Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. He had nowhere to throw the ball because the coverage was so tight. It didn't help that the Steelers were able to generate serious pressure with mostly a three-man rush. Hasselbeck was sacked three times, twice by linebacker James Farrior.
"I think they were expecting Blitzburgh and us sending five or six guys on every play," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "It seemed like we rushed three most of the time."
Cornerback Ike Taylor gets credit for the defense's biggest play. On the final play of the first half, when the Steelers were leading, 7-0, he stepped in front of wide receiver Ben Obomanu to intercept Hasselbeck's pass at the goal line.
But it seems almost unfair to everybody else on the Steelers to single out Taylor on this wonderful autumn afternoon. As Tomlin correctly noted, "Everybody in a helmet today was a playmaker."
Tomlin, who has been phenomenal in every respect so far in his first season, appears to have a long head-coaching career ahead.
There figures to be many more impressive victories.
But it's going to take something awfully special to trump this win.
You know, to make Tomlin feel more prouder.
Ron Cook can be reached at email@example.com .