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Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger says Saints game is ‘must win’

Five games remain, two against division rival Cincinnati, and the Steelers are percentage points from being on top of the AFC North.

In terms of tiebreakers, a loss to an NFC team such as the New Orleans Saints on Sunday wouldn’t be devastating to the Steelers.

But Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t want to hear any of that. He views Sunday’s home game as a must-win.

“I absolutely think it is a must-win,” he said. “We feel that this is a very important game and we have to put together a stretch of football like we never played before.”

That seems to be the sentiment throughout the locker room. In the ultra-competitive AFC, 11 teams have at least six wins heading into the final month.

“This is must-win because if you get hot at the right time, that’s when teams make runs and championships can be had,” Roethlisberger said. “It is all about playing the best football this time of the year. November and December football is always must-win games. I don’t care if you are undefeated or what or have the division locked up.”

Le’Veon Bell added: “This is a playoff game for us, and that’s how we are going to treat it.”

Gilbert hurts ankle

Starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert injured his ankle during practice Wednesday after getting tangled with guard Ramon Foster.

“I am not sure what happened,” Foster said. “It was just guys falling. We will see what his status is.”

Gilbert was listed as a limited participant on the team-issued practice report.

If Gilbert is unable to play Sunday, Mike Adams will replace him.

“I am not going to rule anything out with what’s going on, but Mike has stepped up before, and Cody Wallace can step up,” Roethlisberger said. “I have confidence in those guys that if their number is called that they can step up and be more than capable.”

Practice report

Wide receiver Martavis Bryant (illness), defensive end Brett Keisel (not injury related), tight end Heath Miller (not injury related) and Troy Polamalu (not injury related) did not practice. Steve McLendon (shoulder) was limited. Everyone else was a full participant.

Not hanging around

Shazier is expected to be back in the lineup Sunday, but don’t expect him to hang around the pile after a tackle.

Shazier injured his knee against the Carolina Panthers when he was rolled up on while standing around a pile after a play. It was a similar situation against the Baltimore Ravens a few weeks later, but that time it was his ankle.

“The scenario was crazy because I got rolled up both times,” Shazier said. “One time I learned because I was standing by the pile, which you shouldn’t do. The second time I was actually making a tackle and I was rolled up on the pile. It happens. It’s part of the game.”

Shazier has played in only five games, two of which he left early because of injuries.

One and done

The offensive line has allowed 30 sacks in 11 games. That ranks in the top 10. Against the Ravens, the line allowed three sacks on three plays. Against Tennessee, it allowed four in the first half.

However, unlike years past, the line has found a way to overcome miscues.

“It’s a testament to the staff and the coaches and to the players in the locker room who take one snap and clear, to get on to the next play and bounce back and try to make another big play,” Kelvin Beachum said.

Spence proving his worth

Sean Spence’s mind was working as well as ever. His knee was a different story.

“When I first started, my body wasn’t up to speed with my mind,” said Spence, who spent two years recovering from a serious knee injury suffered prior to his rookie season. “Each game it has gotten better and better, and now it is where I want it to be.”

Spence has been an asset for the Steelers. He has been forced to fill in for the oft-injured rookie Ryan Shazier. Spence has started four games, played in all 11 and participated in more than half of the defensive plays.

The questions of “how is your knee feeling” are gone, and Spence couldn’t be happier.

“It feels good, especially after having to watch for two years,” Spence said. “To go week after week into battle with your brothers feel great.”

Spence is sixth with 36 tackles. With Shazier out, he has split time with Vince Williams. Spence has been in on running downs, and Williams has taken passing downs.

With Shazier expected back Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, Spence is unsure if that rotation will continue.

“Whatever the coach wants,” he said, “I’ll do.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.


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