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|nfl 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 http://www.officialredwings.com/authentic-adidas-dylan-larkin-jersey , 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,” 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 Youth Durham Smythe Jersey , 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: Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona thought the worst when Carlos Carrasco was struck on the right arm by a line drive.
”From where I was standing I thought it might have hit him in the face so there was a little bit of a sense of relief, but it caught him right kind of on that funny bone,” Francona said after the Indians’ 9-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Saturday. ”He was hurting.”
Carrasco grabbed his arm after being hit by Joe Mauer’s leadoff liner in the second inning and went to his knees on the infield grass.
Although the Indians announced Carrasco was diagnosed with a forearm contusion, Francona said the pitcher was struck on the elbow. During his postgame press conference, Francona said Carrasco was still being examined at a hospital. The team was expected to have an update Sunday.
The Twins got four hits from Eddie Rosario in their latest victory over the Indians. Rosario hit his 16th homer for the Twins, who have won five straight against the AL Central leaders to improve to 6-2 against Cleveland this season.
Rosario swung at the first pitch in all four of his hits. He also scored four times, drove in two runs and swiped a base. Rosario is batting .471 with six homers and 11 RBIs against Cleveland this season.
”Everything is going good,” he said. ”I like it. I feel more comfortable playing against the Indians.”
”Four pitches, four hits today,” Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. ”Right now, he feels like he can hit just about anything.”
Minnesota scored four runs in the first off Carrasco (8-5). Eduardo Escobar and Max Kepler each hit a two-run double in the inning. Logan Morrison had three RBIs, including a two-run double in the sixth.
Matt Magill (2-1) got the win with three scoreless innings in relief of Fernando Romero.
Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez homered in the first for Cleveland, which has lost four of five.
Carrasco’s injury forced the Indians to use six relievers Youth Matthew Tkachuk Jersey , including Adam Plutko, who was scheduled to start Sunday’s series finale. Plutko pitched the seventh and eighth.
Outfielder Brandon Guyer, making his first professional pitching appearance, retired the side in order in the ninth on eight pitches.
Carrasco was coming off one of his best starts of the season. He struck out 11 in seven shutout innings against the White Sox on Monday, but he struggled against the Twins. Carrasco threw 37 pitches in the first when he allowed four hits, walked a batter and hit another.
Mauer lined the second pitch of the second to the mound, striking Carrasco directly on the arm. He hopped off the mound and went to the ground before being visited by Francona and a team trainer. Carrasco then walked to the dugout with the trainer and was replaced by Oliver Perez.
”You don’t want to see anybody get hit with a line drive like that,” Molitor said. ”It kind of shakes everyone for a moment, even though you try not to let it.”
The ball that struck Carrasco rolled to first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who stepped on the bag for the out.
Carrasco was hit in the face by a line drive in 2015, but made his next turn in the rotation. The right-hander broke his right hand after being hit by a line drive late in the 2016 season and missed the playoffs.
Mauer led off the game with a single, his first hit since being activated from the disabled list Friday. Rosario walked and both runners scored on Escobar’s double. Morrison was hit by a pitch. Robbie Grossman’s one-out single loaded the bases and Kepler doubled high off the wall in right, scoring two more runs.
Rosario hit an RBI single in the sixth and a solo homer in the eighth.
Guyer was told late in the game that he’d be pitching the ninth. He retired Taylor Motter on a groundout and Ryan LaMarre and Kepler on fly balls.
”I was a pretty good pitcher back in the day,” Guyer said. ”I had elbow surgery when I was 12 that ended the pitching days.”
Twins: OF Byron Buxton (toe fracture) will begin a minor league rehab assignment at Triple-A Rochester on Tuesday.
Indians: LHP Andrew Miller (right knee inflammation) has thrown several bullpen sessions, but it hasn’t been decided when he’ll face hitters as part of his rehab process.
Twins RHP Jake Odorizzi (3-3, 4.19 ERA) will start the series finale. RHP Shane Bieber (0-0, 6.35) will be called up from Triple-A Columbus to start for the Indians.