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It's the mid-week Pittsburgh Steelers playoff notebook

Steelers WR Martavis Bryant appears to have awakened; Marcus Gilbert doesn't take back desire to play Bengals; and veterans evaluate RBs Toussaint, Todman.

PITTSBURGH -- Antonio Brown was heading toward the JUGS machine after practice but stopped to grab Martavis Bryant and bring him along.

"Hey, do you want to win the Super Bowl?" Brown asked him.

It's kind of what Ben Roethlisberger was asking Bryant on the sideline in Cleveland -- after Bryant's wrong route cost the Steelers an interception -- and then again Monday when Roethlisberger said on his radio show that Bryant must "toughen up."

This after Bryant caught only two passes for six yards in the last two games after catching 21 for 250 in a three-game eruption.

The Steelers' offense sunk along with Bryant and the team realizes it needs the big, fast, second-year receiver to successfully complement Brown in the playoffs.

Bryant's reaction?

"It was good for him to challenge me, and I'm accepting it," Bryant said in a surprisingly sunny interview session with a media mob following Wednesday's practice.

"Yeah, he talked to me," Bryant said of Roethlisberger. "Everything's fine. I'm happy he issued the challenge and I'm accepting it."

Bryant was asked if he has been disappointed in himself after the last two games.

"No, I"m not disappointed," he said. "I just have to focus back to the way I used to do. I'm regenerated. I'm going to get right and I'm going to be ready to go on Saturday."

On Saturday, the Steelers play the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the playoffs. Bryant has had nominal success against the Bengals, catching 11 passes for 98 yards in two games this season, but he didn't blink at being called out publicly by Roethlisberger.

"He's the leader of the team," Bryant said. "If he feels you need to step up your game, it's his job to call you out. I'm happy he did it. It woke me up and I'm going to get back to work."

At Wednesday's practice, Bryant confirmed that he did work hard and even made some of what Mike Tomlin likes to call "combat catches."

"Yeah, practice always makes perfect," Bryant said. "Last week I missed a couple days because I was sick. This week my body feels great and I feel great."

MERRY CHRISTMAS

"All I want for Christmas is the Bengals. Would love to see them in the playoffs where they choke. The talking is done between the lines."

That was Marcus Gilbert's tweet the night the Steelers beat the Bengals in Cincinnati last month. The big right tackle deleted it soon thereafter and wouldn't discuss it in the locker room the following week. But he owned up to it this week. On Wednesday he patiently answered all of the questions as if the team had instructed him to do so, and to do it right.

"That was weeks ago," Gilbert told the first reporter. "Obviously there was a lot of emotion in that game. This is a good team. But do I look forward to playing these guys? Yeah, I do."

So Gilbert didn't back down from his infamous tweet, but he did go on to call the Bengals "a good team" twice and "a great team" two other times in a handful of questions.

ANOTHER THIRD-TEAM RB

Last year, the Steelers went into the playoffs with a third-team running back who had been on their practice squad most of the season, but in the playoff game Josh Harris gained only 25 yards on nine carries, and his sidekick, the just-signed Ben Tate, gained 19 yards on five carries with a fumble.

The Steelers are entering the playoffs again without Le'Veon Bell and probably DeAngelo Williams, who injured his foot Sunday in Cleveland and missed Wednesday's practice.

The Steelers are preparing to play Fitzgerald Toussaint, who was called up off the practice squad Nov. 27, and Jordan Todman, who's been with the team since the start of the season.

Steelers veterans were asked yesterday about the difference between last year's situation at running back and this year's.

"Obviously a better year, better coaching, better guys," said Gilbert. "These guys have prepared their tails off. We see it in practice, something you guys don't see. These guys come to work. I like their demeanor and everything about them. I'm excited for these guys to see how the week goes."

"I would say more game experience," said fullback Will Johnson. "The difference between Harris and Fitz is that Fitz has been getting game carries this late in the season. He's earned the coach's confidence and trust to put him in there and say 'He's our guy this week.' And he's done a good job of stepping up and answering the bell. I think he's been running the ball well."

Of course, much of the same was said of Harris last year. He had been with the team since training camp and carried nine times for 16 yards late in the season. He also had a long run against the Bengals that was called back because of a penalty.

Toussaint has twice as many carries -- 18 for 42 yards -- and has more experience than did the rookie Harris. Toussaint spent 2014 with the Baltimore Ravens after coming out of the University of Michigan.

"Yeah, Fitz is a more confident guy," Johnson said. "That comes with what Josh didn't have, those in-season reps. Last week he stepped up and played really well and showed coaches he could pick up blitzes and whatever Cleveland was throwing at us. The week before he came in early against the Ravens and had a couple good runs. I think that's what's gained the coach's confidence."


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