Despite missing two games, in which Pittsburgh went 1-1, Polamalu became the sixth Steeler to win the award. He had seven interceptions this season along with 63 tackles, but he made his mark with big plays. In a late-season victory at Baltimore, Polamalu's leaping tackle forced a fumble that set up the winning touchdown.
"I don't imagine their game plan changing over one player," Polamalu said. "We don't single out anybody. Anything we achieve here is done as a team, as a whole."
So much so that one opponent called the eighth-year pro the NFL's top player, regardless of position.
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Monday: Defensive Player of the Year
Tuesday: Offensive Player of the Year (TBA)
Wednesday: Coach of the Year (TBA)
Friday: Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year (TBA)
Saturday: Comeback Player of the Year (TBA)
Sunday: Most Valuable Player (TBA)
"With all due respect, I honestly think Troy Polamalu is probably the greatest player I've ever played with or even seen play in person," gushed New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who was the MVP of the Steelers' 2009 Super Bowl win over the Arizona Cardinals. "Everybody has their one person they think is the greatest player. In my eyes, I think he's the greatest player I've ever played with."
Polamalu has posted better statistical years than 2010, including the 2008 championship season and in 2005, when he had a career-high 91 tackles and three sacks as the Steelers won the title. He hasn't had any season where he made more big plays than in 2010.
"I know Troy is going to do the right things," LeBeau said.
Matthews did plenty of things correctly in only his second pro season, enough to make the All-Pro team, thanks to 60 tackles, 13.5 sacks (fourth in league), an interception return for a touchdown and, like Polamalu, a penchant for delivering game-turning plays.
"Game-changing plays," Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said with emphasis. "I mean, you look at all the plays Troy's made -- game-changing plays. ... So many game-changing plays to go out there and help win football games. Things that he (does), not only in the secondary -- coming up, tackling backs in the backfield. Troy does it all."
Matthews said it would have been a "unique honor" to win in his second year. His goal, he said, is to become "world champions."
Added Matthews: "Despite defensive player of the year, I get the chance to play Sunday for the world championship."
Considered the lesser of three linebackers from USC drafted in the first round in 2009, Matthews has had the biggest impact of that trio. Yes, Brian Cushing was the league's top defensive rookie in '09, but he tailed off in 2010 while Matthews surged.
Matthews' sensational season came while facing consistent double-teaming.
"You really just attack it," said Matthews, whose father and grandfather played in the league and whose uncle, Bruce, is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman. "I think last year, obviously, was about winning the one-on-one battles. Towards the playoffs, that's when I saw the increase, and it's kind of continued. ... So you deal with it, you try and beat one, then another, and get to the quarterback."
Polamalu and Matthews take their competition to Cowboys Stadium on Sunday. They already are considered marketing adversaries, with Polamalu's jersey the top seller in the league, and both vying for hirsute superiority.
"Well, I can guarantee you my hair's more expensive," Polamalu said.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press