DALLAS -- The debate continues on which player has the best hair in Super Bowl XLV, but the best defensive player in the NFL? Troy Polamalu of the Steelers earned that award, beating out fellow long-hair Clay Matthews III of the Green Bay Packers.
It is the second time in three seasons that a Steelers player earned the NFL Defensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press. Linebacker James Harrison won it in 2008, the previous time the Steelers played in a Super Bowl.
Polamalu led the Steelers with seven interceptions, tying his career high, and had 82 total tackles, sixth on the season. More than his statistics, though, were his timely "splash plays," as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin calls them.
He either saved or helped turn around three consecutive games in the Steelers' favor, starting with an overtime victory Nov. 28 against Buffalo. With the Steelers up by 3 and the Bills on their 12 with three minutes left, Polamalu made an interception at the 1. Buffalo later kicked a field goal to tie it but the Steelers won in overtime.
The next week in Baltimore, the Steelers trailed, 10-6, with about three minutes left. Baltimore had the ball on its 43 when Polamalu sacked quarterback Joe Flacco to force a fumble that teammate LaMarr Woodley returned to the 9. The Steelers followed with their only touchdown for a victory that meant the difference between a No. 2 playoff seed and a wild-card playoff team.
Polamalu continued his Superman routine the following week at Heinz Field when, the Steelers trailing the Bengals, 7-0, in the second quarter and looking sluggish, Polamalu picked off a pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown, diving for the corner of the end zone to polish it off.
He came up limping on that play and the result was an Achilles-related injury that caused him to miss two games and to practice only once a week since then. But he has been deemed ready to go in the Super Bowl, where Green Bay's Matthews will line up for the Packers.
Matthews also was considered a prime candidate for the defensive honor. He had 131/2 sacks, an interception and a touchdown this season.
Tennessee started its search to replace Jeff Fisher as head coach by staying in-house for the first interview with Hall of Fame lineman Mike Munchak, considered the top candidate for the vacancy. Munchak, who turns 51 in March, worked for owner Bud Adams since the then-Houston Oilers made him the eighth overall draft pick in 1982 out of Penn State.
New coach Pat Shurmur has filled out most of his staff, with one notable exception. The team announced the hiring of former Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple as its quarterbacks coach as well as the additions of Dwaine Board (defensive line), Bill Davis (linebackers) and Mike Wilson (wide receivers). Shurmur has yet to select an offensive coordinator, and it's still not known if he intends to hire one. At his introductory news conference, Shurmur, St. Louis' offensive coordinator the past two seasons, said he plans to call plays next season. New England was the only NFL team not to have an offensive coordinator this past season.
Before Miami, Whipple was an offensive assistant with the Eagles in 2008. He also spent three seasons (2004-06) as quarterbacks coach of the Steelers.
Sal Alosi resigned as strength and conditioning coach, less than two months after he was caught tripping Miami's Nolan Carroll on a punt return in a game Dec. 12 at New Meadowlands Stadium.
Cincinnati fired longtime offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, the first change in the coaching staff after a 4-12 season. Bratkowski has been the offensive coordinator since 2001, two years before Marvin Lewis took over as head coach.
Oakland hired longtime assistant Bob Wylie as its new offensive line coach.
The Pro Bowl earned its highest television rating since 2000. The NFC's sloppy 55-41 victory against the AFC Sunday in Honolulu drew a 7.7 rating and 12 share on Fox. That's up 8 percent from a year ago, when the game first moved from after the Super Bowl to the week before it.
First Published February 1, 2011 5:00 AM