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Polamalu voted top defender

Safety tops Matthews for award by 2 votes

Associated Press / February 1, 2011

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Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was named the Associated Press 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year yesterday, receiving 17 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who cover the league to edge Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews by two votes.

Despite missing two games, Polamalu became the sixth Steeler to win the award. He had seven interceptions this season along with 63 tackles, but made his mark with big plays.

In a late-season win at Baltimore, his leaping tackle forced a fumble that set up the winning touchdown. That victory catapulted the Steelers to the AFC North title. Now, they are in the Super Bowl for the third time in six seasons, where they face Matthews and the Packers Sunday in Arlington, Texas.

“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.’’

Added Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who finished third in the balloting with eight votes and won the award two years ago: “Troy brings this defense from a ‘C’ defense to an ‘A’ defense. He’s someone that you have to account for in the secondary.’’

Matthews made the All-Pro team thanks to 60 tackles, 13 1/2 sacks (fourth in the league), an interception return for a touchdown, and, like Polamalu, a penchant for delivering game-turning plays.

Matthews said it would have been a “unique honor’’ to win in his second year. His goal, he said, is to become “world champions.’’

Also receiving votes were Chicago end Julius Peppers with six and linebacker Brian Urlacher with two, and Baltimore safety Ed Reed and nose tackle Haloti Ngata with one each.

Negotiations coming Commissioner Roger Goodell and union executive director DeMaurice Smith met in New York about labor negotiations. According to a joint statement from the league and union, Goodell and Smith spoke about “a range of issues related to a new collective bargaining agreement.’’

They agreed to have a formal bargaining session with both negotiating teams in the Dallas area on Saturday. The sides have not had a full-group negotiation since November.

Goodell and Smith also set up a series of meetings in the coming weeks “in an effort to reach a new agreement by early March,’’ the statement said.

The current CBA expires at the end of the day March 3, and the union expects the NFL to lock out players as soon as the next day.

In a related story, the NFL Players Association said its TV ad that was supposed to air during a college football all-star game this weekend was rejected by CBS College Sports Network because the message was connected to labor negotiations.

The 30-second commercial, which can be seen on YouTube, includes shots of empty seats and a padlocked gate at a stadium. After voice-overs say, “Let us play,’’ and “Let them play,’’ union president and former NFL player Kevin Mawae says: “We want to play.’’ The ad also promotes a union website and urges viewers to sign a petition.

Whipple joins Browns The Browns hired former University of Massachusetts coach Mark Whipple as quarterbacks coach. Whipple spent the past two seasons as offensive coordinator at the University of Miami, the latest stop in a career that includes head coaching stints at New Haven and New Hampshire. He was the Steelers’ quarterbacks coach from 2004-06. The Browns also announced the coaching additions of Dwaine Board (defensive line), Bill Davis (linebackers), and Mike Wilson (wide receivers) . . . The Titans started their search to replace Jeff Fisher by staying in-house for their first interview, with offensive line coach Mike Munchak. The Hall of Famer is considered the top candidate . . . The Bengals fired longtime offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, who had held the position since 2001 . . . Sal Alosi resigned as Jets strength and conditioning coach less than two months after he was caught tripping an opposing player during a punt return and suspended indefinitely by the team. “I feel it’s best for my family and me to look for a fresh start,’’ Alosi said in a statement issued by the team . . . The Pro Bowl on Sunday earned its highest television rating (7.7) since 2000 and drew a 12 share on Fox for a game that started 42-0, NFC, and ended 55-41.

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