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At this time a year ago, with Polamalu out with an injured left knee, the Steelers were 6-7 and on a five-game losing streak. With Polamalu sidelined, they lost five games by 3 points, one by 6 and another by 7.

This season, with Polamalu not missing a game yet despite a bothersome ankle/Achilles’ tendon injury that causes Tomlin to rest him during Wednesday and Thursday practices, the Steelers have three victories by 3 points or fewer, and two by 6 points.

Is Polamalu entirely the reason for the Steelers winning the close games they lost last season? No, but try getting one of his teammates to say that.

One statistic that shows how Polamalu’s presence makes the Steelers better: Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer targeted wide receiver Terrell Owens on six passes. Owens caught one. Polamalu caught two.

“They saw me line up in certain situations and certain formations and come across the middle,” Owens said. “Polamalu was coming downhill on those routes. I think they did a great job of gameplanning.”

Not that it’s any surprise the Steelers are measurably better when Polamalu plays. Over the last three seasons, they allow an average of about 60 yards and 9 points per game fewer when Polamalu plays as compared to when he doesn’t.

With Ravens safety Ed Reed slowed since missing the front half of the season with hip surgery, there is little argument that Polamalu is the league’s pre-eminent player at that position.

“He’s playing amazing, the stuff he does on Sundays is unbelievable,” Farrior said. “I’ve said it, I think he’s the best player I’ve ever played with.”