PITTSBURGH (AP) James Harrison returned to the Pittsburgh Steelers for two main reasons, to shore up the team's sagging linebacking corps and to win another Super Bowl.
It took a month for Harrison to make an impact on the Steelers defense, but the team's postseason fate could be determined this week. If the Steelers (9-5) beat the Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) Sunday at Heinz Field, they will qualify for the NFL playoffs for the first time since the 2011 season.
''I came back with the hopes of helping the team win,'' Harrison said. ''That's the same reason I went to Cincinnati last year, to help them win. So, this is no different, and I feel like I'm heading in the right direction. I feel good, and I'm ready to go.''
The Harrison of old - the one who earned five Pro Bowl trips and an NFL defensive player of the year award - showed up against the Colts and Ravens. Just when Harrison appeared to be on top of his game, he suffered a knee injury Nov. 30 against New Orleans that forced him to miss the past two games.
After two good practice days this week, Harrison appears to be ready to return to bolster the Steelers' pass rush.
''He probably needed a little football early on when he came back, but he had that early,'' defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. ''Those two games back to back when he had the multiple sacks (two in each game), that's when he got into football shape. He's been ready to go ever since then. And I think he's ready to go now, so I'm sure he's 100 percent.''
Harrison was confident that he would play against the Chiefs, and he believed the Steelers success would continue as their health and execution on defense steadily improved as well.
''The best way to go into the playoffs is winning,'' Harrison said. ''That's the only way to do it, whether you have to win or don't have to win to get in. You want to go in on a winning streak. So, we're getting a little better each week, and we hope to get on a little roll going into the dance.''
Notes: SS Troy Polamalu (knee), TE Matt Spaeth (elbow) and WR Markus Wheaton (illness) did not practice Thursday. . CB Ike Taylor (shoulder, right forearm) was limited. . OLB Harrison (knee), OT Marcus Gilbert (ankle), FS Mike Mitchell (groin) and C Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) were full-time practice participants Thursday.