PITTSBURGH -- Getting caught out of position. Being a step slow on a play. Missing tackles. Not making the instinctive plays he knows he could make.
Polamalu blamed himself for the defeat, saying he didn't trust his instincts to make plays he knows could have affected the outcome. He has done considerable critiquing of himself since then to avoid having a repeat performance Monday night against Cincinnati.
"A lot of times you can be in the right spot, you can be within the scheme of the defense. But in my own mind, when I know something's going to happen and you don't take advantage of things, it's disappointing," Polamalu said Wednesday. "Maybe only I would know some of those things. There were plays that I knew were coming that I didn't react fast enough to."
Polamalu wouldn't discuss specifics, but he said there were multiple occasions in which the Saints' alignment and personnel alerted him to what was coming. Wary of abandoning his assignment, he chose not to gamble by trying to break up a play -- but wishes now he had.
"In my mind, they would have been game-changing plays," Polamalu said. "It's like, 'Man, I knew that play, and I should have done something about it.' But it's also maybe going a little bit out of the defense and expecting a little bit more of myself than I should."
Told of Polamalu's comments, cornerback Bryant McFadden said: "That's the kind of competitor Troy is."
"Troy is always an X factor for us. He's able to do exceptional things," McFadden said. "We all want to be as close to perfection as possible, close to being where we need to be as possible at all times, and sometimes we fall short."
Polamalu doesn't believe he's having a poor season, suggesting the Steelers wouldn't be 5-2 if he were. But he realizes his statistics suggest there's been a drop-off in his play since he twice injured his left knee last season, limiting him to three full games.
His knee feels better than it has at any time since he was initially hurt in the 2009 opener against Tennessee, and he insists it's not a factor. But with two interceptions, no forced or recovered fumbles and no sacks as the season nears its midpoint, Polamalu's production is down from his last uninterrupted season.
The Steelers' secondary, which had a not-surprising falloff once Polamalu went down last season, isn't substantially improved statistically now that he's back. The Steelers are 25th in pass defense (243.1 yards per game), and opposing quarterbacks are completing 68 percent of their passes, up from 56.5 percent in 2008.
Even Polamalu, whose ability to fill multiple roles as a pass defender, pass rusher and run stopper out of multiple alignments often is cited as the feature that separates Pittsburgh's defense from all others.
"I can't tell you too many games that I walked away from satisfied with my performance," Polamalu said. "In my mind, there's more plays out there I should make. And this is not the only game I felt that way."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press