PITTSBURGH - Whatever relief the Pittsburgh Steelers felt over having safety Troy Polamalu back in the lineup didn't last long.
Polamalu, who missed two games over three weeks with a strained right calf muscle, re-injured his leg early in Sunday's 16-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field.
Polamalu didn't return to the game, and sat on the bench with his leg heavily wrapped. It looked as though he was reluctant to put any weight on his leg.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Mike Wallace can’t haul in a pass in front of Philadelphia’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
"We don't know the extent of it," was all coach Mike Tomlin would say about Polamalu's injury.
The Steelers don't have much time to recover. Their next game is Thursday night in Tennessee.
"Working on a short week, we'll see," Tomlin said.
The Steelers also lost linebacker LaMarr Woodley in the first half with a right hamstring injury.
Tomlin said he had no information on Woodley's prognosis.
"Working on a short week is probably not a good sign, but we'll go day to day," Tomlin said.
There was a positive injury-related development for the defense: Linebacker James Harrison, who had not played this season because of lingering issues associated with knee surgery, started and played the full game.
Tomlin praised Harrison's commitment to conditioning in allowing him to return and be totally involved immediately.
"We're going to watch him, but it became evident that he was game-ready from a conditioning standpoint," Tomlin said. "It was a tight ballgame and we needed his services."
Asked to grade his game, Harrison said, "C-minus" and added that he has to work to build his endurance.
"I was happy I was able to play the whole game," he said.
Harrison said that mobile Eagles quarterback Michael Vick presented problems as the Steelers tried to stay on the right side of the NFL's rules on helmet-to-helmet hits. He said that Vick's shiftiness sometimes turns a legal hit into one that gets reviewed by the NFL.
"At the last second, he can dip his head," Harrison said.
With Woodley out, Jason Worilds got more playing time, and Lawrence Timmons was more of a presence than he has been.
"Our defense stood up today," Timmons said. "A good team is always defined by what they do after losses. Mike Tomlin did a really good job of preparing us the whole week."
The Steelers forced four Eagles fumbles, three of them by quarterback Michael Vick. Vick lost two.
"The edge we were playing with, everybody was running to the ball and having fun out there," Timmons said. "That's what it's all about."
Ready to run
When running back Rashard Mendenhall was knocked out at the end of last season by a knee injury that required surgery, there was concern he might miss most of this season.
Instead, Mendenhall was back for the Steelers' fourth game. He carried the ball 14 times for 81 yards to lead the Steelers. He also caught 20 passes for 20 more yards. He also gave the Steelers a scare when he fumbled the ball out of bounds after one run.
"I thought it was a good start," Tomlin said. "He's always a highly-conditioned guy. Obviously he has to get a little more ball security. I thought he not only ran hard and caught the ball, but he was a source of energy for the unit. That's what great players do. They inspire those around them. I thought he did that for the group."
Mendenhall became the Steelers' second leading rusher for the season with Sunday's performance. That speaks to how the running game has suffered in his absence.
"He looked great," Ben Roethlisberger said. "I don't know if he feels good, but I'm sure he does. He didn't really make too many big shots, and he made some big plays. We just hope he made it out of this game without any more injury."
Mendenhall took a low-key approach to his return, trying not the focus too much on it and just going through his normal game preparation.
"I felt comfortable throughout the week," he said. "I just wanted to go out there and play the best I could. I was able to do that."
Mendenhall scored a touchdown, taking a swing pass from Roethlisberger at the 20, and running 13 yards for the Steelers' first score. Statisticians ruled the pass a lateral, so the touchdown is considered a rushing attempt.
"I guess Ben didn't have anywhere to go with the ball, so I was an outlet," Mendenhall said. "A one-on-one running back wants to win those and I was able to do that."
Mendenhall said he didn't anticipate any problems being ready to play again on Thursday.
"They held me out some today," he said. "I wasn't in for an extensive amount of plays. We'll see how it shakes out, but I'm not worried about it."
Backing him up
Colon is one of Roethlisberger's close friends, so he was dismayed to see him get called for four penalties.
"Willie is a fighter," Roethlisberger said. "He's a tough son of a gun. He's putting guys on their backs. Unfortunately he's getting [penalty] calls. You look at it - and without getting fined for saying something about the officiating - I think Willie is just flat-out pancaking people.
"He's putting them on their backs, and defensive linemen are just kind of throwing their hands up because there's nothing else they can do. I stay positive with him, and he needs to stay positive because he's doing a great job."
Mike Wallace wasn't much of a factor, catching just two of the eight passes thrown in his direction for 17 yards.
Roethlisberger said Wallace was frustrated by the Eagles' tight coverage.
"Those defensive backs are good," he said. "It's a frustrating day because there are so many plays you feel you left out there. That's what I told him. We can be frustrated right now, but let's move on. And he'll move on. He'll be fine. He's frustrated because he holds himself to such a high standard, and that's good. You want that."
Roethlisberger was doubled over in pain during the last drive, but recovered.
"I just got hit in the wrong spot, if you know what I mean," he said.
Tomlin's answers to questions have become almost comically brief. He declined to answer a question about whether Emmanuel Sanders was the primary receiver on a third down play on the winning drive.
"I'm not going to go through the progression with you," Tomlin said. "Obviously he was an option."
That was the final question of the post-game session.
Earlier, Tomlin had these exchanges:
Q: Is it troubling the defense gave up a fourth quarter lead again?
Q: Does the fourth quarter bring out the best in Roethlisberger?
Roethlisberger was not sacked in the game.
"We tried to get him as best we could," Eagles defensive end Trent Cole said. "He gets the ball fast, takes two steps and throws the ball fast."
Coach Andy Reid added, "We had pressure. We had chances to get our hands on him. He's a big strong guy. You have to get him down once you have your hands on him. We knew that was an issue. That's been an issue with every team that's played him. We just needed to do a better job."
Reid went for it twice on the fourth down on the Eagles' final scoring drive. One of those gambles came on 4th-and-1 from his own 30.
"I wanted to win the game," he said. "You're in a tough place to win games. Their home record is unbelievable. We had the ball in our hands and I wanted to take care of it and score. That's what we did."
Former Pitt star LeSean (Shady) McCoy had 53 yards on 16 carries, an average of 3.3 yards. His longest run was 10 yards. McCoy also caught four passes for 27 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown.
Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson fumbled in the end zone to kill one scoring drive.
"That's always frustrating," McCoy said. "We felt like we could drive on them. That kind of changed the game a little bit."
Stats and streaks
n The Steelers rushed for 136 yards, their first 100-yard game of the season. They hadn't gone this deep into a season without running for 100 yards in a game since 1950.
n Since the 1970 merger, the Steelers are 100-60-1 against the NFC, including Super Bowl results.
n Roethlisberger had his 25th career fourth quarter winning drive, the first since Sept. 25, 2011 at Indianapolis. He completed four of five passes for 50 yards on the last drive.
n Heath Miller topped 4,000 receiving yards (4,034) becoming the eighth Steelers player to reach that level.