ARLINGTON, Texas -- Troy Polamalu whiffed on a tackle. James Harrison was nearly invisible.
Not the way the Pittsburgh Steelers drew this up.
Pittsburgh’s big-play, hard-hitting defensive leaders were nowhere to be found when the Steelers needed them most as Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s offense led the Packers to a 31-25 victory Sunday.
Polamalu was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but was anything but the impact player who helped get the Steelers to this point. He had a chance to make a big play early, but delivered only a glancing blow on James Starks.
Polamalu delivered his biggest hit the very next play -- as Greg Jennings caught a 21-yard touchdown pass.
Harrison had a sack, but made most of his noise with his mouth during the week while criticizing the NFL. He might not have much to say after this performance, though.
Dick LeBeau’s defense was one of the strengths all season for the Steelers, who have a long legacy of punishers -- The Steel Curtain among them -- who helped bring six previous titles to Pittsburgh. This team expected to do the same, with Polamalu and Harrison leading the way, as they so often have during the last few seasons.
But Polamalu finished with three not-so-memorable tackles, while Harrison had only the sack of Rodgers in the third quarter and a few quarterback hits.
It wasn’t just Polamalu and Harrison to blame, of course. The Steelers’ suspect secondary gave up several big plays throughout the game as the Packers, even without the injured Donald Driver for most of the game, took aim at Bryant McFadden, William Gay and the rest of Pittsburgh’s defensive backs.
The defensive line, led by the big-bearded Brett Keisel, got some pressure on Rodgers but it wasn’t consistent enough, especially in the first half, to get the Packers off track.
“We don’t grade on a curve,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’re not interested in moral victories and things of that nature. We didn’t play well enough to win and Green Bay does, and we tip our hat to them because of that.”
When the Steelers look back at this one, though, they’ll wish Polamalu and Harrison had done what made them two of the elite defensive players in the NFL.
Polamalu is a matchup nightmare with the way he freelances in the secondary, but he was beaten in coverage on Jennings’ 8-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter that put Green Bay up 28-17.