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    The words that threatened to define Ben Roethlisberger’s season were uttered almost as an afterthought and with more than a hint of frustrated sarcasm.

    It just didn’t read that way as it made the rounds on social media [url=http://www.philadelphiaeaglesteamonlines.com/richard-rodgers-jersey]Authentic Richard Rodgers Jersey[/url] , or sound that way during a three-second sound bite played endlessly on a loop.

    ”Maybe I don’t have it anymore,” the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said in a somber locker room three months ago after throwing five interceptions in a 30-9 loss to Jacksonville .

    Roethlisberger didn’t mean it. Call it a visceral reaction to having two of his 55 passes returned the other way for game-deciding touchdowns. Three days later the 35-year-old was back to calling himself one of the ”best in the world.” It wasn’t just idle talk. He followed it up by spending the better part of the next 10 weeks playing like it.

    The quarterback who will stride onto the field Sunday for a rematch against the Jaguars in the divisional round of the playoffs has his swagger back. Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey jokingly gave credit to the beard Roethlisberger began growing in the aftermath of one of the most forgettable performances of his career. Of course, that’s not the reality. The guys who surround Roethlisberger in the huddle know the swagger never really left.

    ”Ben is the most talented guy I’ve ever been around,” Heyward-Bey said. ”I’m not talking quarterback. I’m talking about talent. He can do a lot of different things. He believes in his ability and he’s going to show people on Sunday that he believes in himself.”

    The player who openly pondered retirement last spring, the one who quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner said in November will occasionally uncork a flutter ball while looking very much his age, heads to his 21st career playoff game at the height of his powers. Roethlisberger is averaging 298 yards passing since that forgettable three hours against the NFL’s top defense.

    Roethlisberger’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in seven straight games and the Steelers ended the season with a 9-1 sprint, the lone setback a loss to New England on Dec. 17 in which his only mistake came on a poorly executed fake spike that resulted in a game-ending pick.

    What’s working? Nearly everything.

    Having two of the top skill position players in the league in wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell helps. So does the continued evolution of rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant’s immersion into the offense following an ill-advised trade demand.

    Yet Pittsburgh’s offense will only go as far over the next month as Roethlisberger can take it. Though he downplayed looking for payback after the Jaguars shut him down in ways that few teams have in recent years, not everyone is buying it.

    ”I’m sure just as any competitor would, when you go and have a bad outing or a difficult, tough outing against a team, you want that revenge,” Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles said. ”You want to go prove that it was a fluke or whatever it might be. I’m sure that’s probably what he’s thinking.”

    Not that Roethlisberger would admit it even if he is. Never one to go into great detail about how he goes about his job, Roethlisberger insists he’s focused simply on playing well. The fact it’s against the Jaguars is coincidental. There is no looking ahead to a potential shot at New England in the AFC title game, or a third Super Bowl that would provide an exclamation point on a potential Hall of Fame career.

    ”I am not worried about what’s going on up there (with the Patriots),” Roethlisberger said. ”All I can think about and worry about is this defense that we are playing.”

    A defense that will likely need to find a way to replicate its October dominance to extend its season. The Steelers have been forced to revisit the loss this week, one that put their journey from that moment to this one in perspective.

    ”That game for our entire group was kind of a watershed moment [url=http://www.losangelesramsteamonline.com/joseph-noteboom-jersey]Authentic Joseph Noteboom Jersey[/url] ,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said Thursday. ”We stayed together, but there was a lot of pressure from the outside. A lot of outside factors that could have been divisive in some way for our group, but I take my hat off to the guys. They stuck together. They pulled together tighter. We knew that wasn’t our best football and we knew it probably really wasn’t as bad as it appeared.”

    Or, as Roethlisberger can attest, as bad as it sounded afterward. The sound bite was just that, a bite, one that in a way played a role in his resurgence. One that ended with his sixth Pro Bowl selection and a very real shot to become the fourth quarterback in NFL history with three Super Bowl titles.

    ”He’s confident in his ability and he’s confident in his receivers,” Heyward-Bey said. ”He knows that we’re going to go out there and try and make plays for him. That’s what a quarterback needs. He has to have confidence in his guys.”

    Roethlisberger’s confidence in himself was never an issue.

    NOTES: CB Artis Burns (hyperextended right knee) did not practice Thursday but is hoping to play Sunday. DE Stephon Tuitt (elbow) also did not practice but plans to play. … LB Ryan Shazier, recovering from spine stabilization surgery, attended practice again in a wheelchair and hung out in the locker room after practice.

    AP NFL website: Looking to shake his squad out of its slump, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle juggled the top of his lineup.

    Didn’t hurt that the Pirates ran into the perfect opponent, too – a team struggling even worse than they were.

    Josh Bell hit a two-run homer, Gregory Polanco also went deep and Pittsburgh took advantage of some dreadful defense by the New York Mets to snap a five-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory Monday night.

    ”If it’s broken you have to fix it, right?” said Bell, who batted second. ”Changing things up. It might have been the spark that we needed.”

    In a series opener between tumbling teams, Pittsburgh built a five-run cushion for Jameson Taillon and held on to hand the Mets their seventh straight defeat before a mostly quiet crowd of 22 [url=http://www.losangelesramsteamonline.com/brian-allen-jersey]Authentic Brian Allen Jersey[/url] ,135. New York (31-45) is 6-24 in its last 30 games – and that 11-1 start to the season feels like ancient history.

    Playing at home has hardly helped. The reeling Mets, with the fewest wins in the National League, have lost 14 of 15 at Citi Field, falling to 13-25 in their own ballpark this season.

    ”It’s tough,” rookie manager Mickey Callaway said. ”We need to start playing better baseball to win some games.”

    After totaling only eight runs during their skid, the Pirates shuffled the first three hitters in their batting order. Leadoff man Starling Marte stole two bases and scored three times as Pittsburgh, which was in first place on May 17, won for only the 11th time in 35 games.

    ”We’re just looking for anything to kick-start us. Different guys hitting in different spots, maybe getting some different pitches to hit,” Taillon said. ”So I think it was fun. I think it was good to mix things up. If you do the same thing over and over, you’re crazy. So we mix it and we got some results.”

    Taillon (5-6) took a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning against a makeshift Mets lineup before New York tried to rally. Consecutive doubles by Jose Reyes and Kevin Plawecki chased Taillon, and a three-run homer by pinch-hitter Wilmer Flores off Tyler Glasnow trimmed Pittsburgh’s lead to 5-4.

    Steven Brault entered and threw seven straight balls before recovering to strike out Jose Bautista on a pitch in the dirt. Brault then got Asdrubal Cabrera to ground into an inning-ending double play.

    Cabrera also committed an earlier error at second base.

    Kyle Crick pitched out of trouble in the eighth , and Elias Diaz provided an insurance run with a sacrifice fly in the ninth. Felipe Vazquez struck out the side for his 15th save in 19 attempts.

    ”That’s the way you’re looking for your closer to finish the game,” Hurdle said. ”That’s as good as he’s pitched all season.”

    Two errors in the first three innings by rookie third baseman Luis Guillorme – touted as a slick fielder – led directly to a pair of unearned runs against Mets starter Seth Lugo (2-3).

    ”Didn’t make the plays,” Guillorme said. ”I should be able to play anywhere they put me.”

    Josh Harrison hit a sacrifice fly in the first, Polanco had a solo homer in the second and Diaz delivered a two-out RBI single in the third.

    It was only the second home run since May 12 for Polanco [url=http://www.losangelesramsteamonline.com/john-kelly-jersey]Authentic John Kelly Jersey[/url] , who came off the bench the previous three days.

    Bell sliced a two-run shot into the left-field corner in the sixth, his first homer since May 31 at St. Louis. Bell has three homers in four career games at Citi Field, where Pittsburgh has won 11 of its last 16.

    ”Everyone contributed something,” Hurdle said. ”Marte has the ability to change a game up top, just to really get you going.”

    In the wake of Arizona’s four-game sweep at Pittsburgh last weekend, Hurdle spoke to his team.

    ”I felt we just needed as a group to recommit to some things,” he said.

    ROSTER MOVE

    Needing a fresh arm in the bullpen, the Mets recalled RHP Tyler Bashlor from Double-A Binghamton and optioned RHP Chris Flexen to Triple-A Las Vegas. The 25-year-old Bashlor made his major league debut in the sixth and worked two innings, giving up Bell’s two-run homer.

    DOWN ON THE FARM

    Pirates minor leaguer Oddy Nunez pitched a rain-shortened no-hitter Sunday for Class A Bradenton in the Florida State League. Nunez struck out six and walked two over eight innings in a 5-0 win against Fort Myers.

    TRAINER’S ROOM

    Mets: OF Brandon Nimmo didn’t start because of a sore right pinkie after getting hit by a pitch Sunday. But an MRI showed no broken bones and he is day to day. ”Real good news,” a relieved Callaway said. Nimmo entered as a pinch-runner in the eighth and stayed in the game to play left field. … Flores and 3B Todd Frazier were rested. Frazier lined out to center field as a pinch-hitter. … 3B David Wright (shoulder, back) took batting practice and grounders on the field.

    UP NEXT

    Pirates RHP Chad Kuhl (5-5, 4.56 ERA) starts Tuesday night against LHP Steven Matz (3-5, 3.68).

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