Pouncey improving after battling virus

Center Maurkice Pouncey returned to practice on Thursday after battling a stomach virus that caused him to lose 12 pounds.

"It was terrible," said Pouncey. "I had a big-time stomach virus and you know what that leads to. I couldn't stop using the rest room. I lost a lot of weight, but I am back fine now."

Pouncey, who practiced on a limited basis, started the Kansas City game but left early due to the virus symptoms.

"I was having dry heaves," said Pouncey of how he felt during the game. "Every time I tried to get to the ball I kept on trying to throw up. When I got to the locker room my stomach was cramping up real bad. They gave me a lot of good medicine to help me out."

Before he could make it to the locker room, though, Pouncey did get sick on the field.

"My body was weak and I just couldn't handle it anymore," he said. "I was on the sidelines gagging and stuff. I did throw up right on the field. I don't think anyone saw it. It was during a time out. I was walking toward the huddle when it happened.

"It stinks. I hope it never happens to me or anybody."

The Steelers have their second go-around with the Bengals on Sunday, and while they came away with a 24-17 win in Cincinnati on Nov. 13 they know it will be a different game this time around.

"We could have played them last Sunday and it will be a completely different game this week," said cornerback William Gay. "That's how we have to prepare for it. It's a new week we have to forget about what happened in the past. It's going to be a good game. We have a lot on the line."

The Steelers take an 8-3 record into the game, tied with the Baltimore Ravens with the best record in the AFC North but the Ravens currently hold the tiebreaker. The Bengals are 7-4 and along with the Steelers battling for a playoff spot.

"It's a big-time game for us," said receiver Mike Wallace. "Both of us need this game to stay in the division hunt. Everybody is going to come out and give a lot of effort. We are in the division hunt. We need to win every game we can. It's a must win for us. We need to win every game."

With only five games remaining on the schedule, every game now takes on a playoff-like feel and will be a battle.

"When it's an AFC North game it's always a dog fight," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "I am glad we are getting to play at home in front of the home crowd. It's a big one for us. We know they will come out fired up. Every team that plays us we get their best shot. We'll just have to give them ours as well."

Coaches talk about the importance of it. Players focus on it. And starting Sunday it's official – December football has arrived.

"The teams that have strong Decembers, they tend to do very well down the stretch and going into the playoffs," said wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. "We're just trying to finish strong down the stretch and make sure that we're hitting on all cylinders come the post-season."

One of the keys to strong play in December is not just aggressive, physical football, but also coming up big on the mental side of the game.

"No mental errors, you can't beat yourself in December," said Cotchery. "You can't have any of those self-inflicting wounds in December. You have to be able to make those plays, you have to play good physical football, especially being in this type of weather. You just got to make those plays to win the games."

Cotchery, who signed with the Steelers after playing for the New York Jets for seven years, said this is why he came to Pittsburgh – to be in the hunt this time of year.

"No question, no question," said Cotchery. "I came here to play this type of ball and I'm excited to be a part of it."

There are many who consider Steelers Heath Miller to be the most underrated tight end in the NFL. Roethlisberger, who knows Miller's talents better than anybody, couldn't agree more.

"He's a Pro Bowl tight end and from every aspect - blocking, catching," said Roethlisberger. "He's a guy that when things are breaking down I know where he's going to be most of the time. He's one of those guys that I would take first in my backyard team. He just understands the game of football, he understands how to get open and use his body. He's got great hands and coordination."

Miller also brings consistency, not just on game day but every day in practice.

"If he drops the ball in practice everybody just stops for a second and starts laughing because it just doesn't happen," said Roethlisberger. "Heath is an awesome guy. I'd say one of the best qualities about Heath is that if I go up to a wide receiver and ask if he's open, he's always open. Heath will tell you he wasn't open and he was wide open because that's just type of person he is."

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