January 11, 2017

PITTSBURGH (AP) Mike Tomlin didn't mention any names. Then again, he didn't really have to. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey are the only two players on the Pittsburgh Steelers who put their fingers around the laces on every offensive snap.

And really, there's only one who has the power to decide when, where and how the football gets where it needs to go. So Tomlin left little to the imagination when describing what his surging team needs to do if it wants to find a way to get out of Kansas City with a win on Sunday in the divisional round of the playoffs.

''We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball,'' Tomlin said. ''It is January. You have to take care of the football. It's catastrophic to your cause when it's good-on-good.''

Except, oddly, when it's not. The Steelers (12-5) have reeled off eight straight victories even with Roethlisberger occasionally throwing interceptions.

It's telling of how Pittsburgh has become behind running back Le'Veon Bell that the kind of mistakes that would typically doom Pittsburgh - like Roethlisberger's three-interception day in Buffalo last month or the two picks he threw last weekend against Miami in the wild-card round - turned out to be speed bumps instead of dead ends.

Still, the two-time Super Bowl winner knows he needs to be sharper on the road against a team that created 21 of its 33 takeaways in the red-clad sea of noise at Arrowhead Stadium.

''Obviously turning the ball over on my part, can't do it,'' Roethlisberger said.

Something that's happened with regularity even as the Steelers picked themselves up following a mystifying 4-5 start. Pittsburgh has reeled off two months of occasional dominance, including a stretch in which it went more than a month without falling behind even with their unquestioned leader making sometimes iffy decisions.

Roethlisberger has thrown eight of his 15 interceptions on the season in his last five games, including a pair against the Dolphins. The first smacked off Antonio Brown's hands late in the first half with the ball deep in Miami territory. The second came with less than 5 minutes to go and Pittsburgh comfortably ahead when Roethlisberger released a floater that sailed well over the head of tight end Jesse James.

They turned out to be minor annoyances. This time. And they came after he completed his first 11 passes, including two long touchdowns to Brown that put the Steelers firmly in control.

''Luckily we had a big enough lead that it didn't matter as much,'' Roethlisberger said. ''But moving forward we need to make sure we limit those mistakes, and I'll start with myself.''

Roethlisberger's second interception against Miami came when he tried to look for Demarcus Ayers on the left but found Ayers not in the right spot. He turned back to his right and stepped up in the pocket, releasing the ball just as Miami defensive end Cameron Wake fell on Roethlisberger's right ankle, forcing the 34-year-old to briefly don a protective boot.

Coach Mike Tomlin held Roethlisberger out of practice on Wednesday, a courtesy he regularly gives Roethlisberger as a season wears on. There is zero doubt Roethlisberger will be under center in Kansas City. And zero doubt he'll be well aware of a secondary that's among the best in the league.

''They have some ball-hawks, and guys that could be described as some of the best in the world at ball-hawking,'' Tomlin said.

That wasn't an issue the first time around. A week after the Chiefs produced eight turnovers at home against the New York Jets, Roethlisberger torched them for five touchdowns in a 43-14 rout. The brilliant display was also more than three months ago.

''They are a very aggressive defense,'' Roethlisberger said. ''We were able to utilize some of that the first time we played them. But like I said, we throw that out the window. They may be more conservative. They may just play their game.''

While the Steelers will try to continue to play the brand that's led them out of the woods: a rapidly maturing defense, a splash of Brown and massive quantities of Bell. A slightly crisper performance by a quarterback who knows a thing or two about thriving this time of year would only help.

''You have to dial in, wire in. That's why we talk about how important the playoffs are in every practice, every rep you can take,'' Roethlisberger said. ''So if I can be a leader in that way, going to practice and focusing in practice a little more than usual, whatever it may be, just so younger guys see that. Because some guys have never been in this situation before, and I've been in a lot of them.''

NOTES: Bell was held out of practice as a courtesy after touching the ball 31 times against Miami. ... TE Ladarius Green (concussion) did not practice. ... S Sean Davis (shoulder) and DE Stephon Tuitt (ankle) were limited.

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