Preparing with anticipation, urgency

Sixth-year wide receiver Antonio Brown has the records but he doesn't have a ring, a hole in his resume of which Brown is reminded about with regularity.

"I hear that all the time," Brown said. "Coach (Mike) Tomlin says if I'm going to be a great one, you're measured on your hardware."

As a franchise the Steelers have more of that than anyone, as the six Vince Lombardi trophies on display at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex will attest.

But it's a collection that hasn't grown since Feb. 1, 2009.

"You feel incomplete because you're not on that board yet," said defensive end Cam Heyward, the Steelers' first-round pick in 2011. "That's why I come to work every day. I think that's why a lot of guys come to work."

For the Steelers, the quest begins again on Saturday night in Cincinnati.

Another season in the postseason means another opportunity, for those who are already "on that board" and for those still striving to get there.

"That is why we're here," free safety Mike Mitchell said. "That is what we're hunting. That's why we do everything that we do, to win a championship, so obviously this is the time that's most important."

That goes for relatively recent additions such as Mitchell, who came aboard as an unrestricted free agent from Carolina in 2014, and for Super Bowl veterans such as tight end Ben Roethlisberger, a first-round pick in 2005 who has played in three games after which a Lombardi Trophy has been awarded.

"I'm excited," Miller said. "Every year you get this opportunity I've realized how precious they are. Maybe not early in my career, when I took it for granted, 'this is what we do every year.'"

Miller became a Super Bowl champion as a rookie and again at the conclusion of his fourth NFL season.

Now in his 11th year in the league, Miller and the Steelers are riding a three-game postseason losing streak and are looking for a win in the playoffs for the first time since Jan. 23, 2011 (24-19 over the Jets in the AFC Championship Game).

"Now I realize and truly appreciate how difficult it is to get here and to do something when you're here," Miller said.

Added guard Ramon Foster, who arrived in 2009: "Teams go through changes. We've gone through a lot of changes as a team as far as being in this position. Guys just have to get the understanding that making the playoffs isn't an every-year thing. Winning in the playoffs isn't an every-year thing. Comparing last year to this year, I think guys understand that part of it.

"With the young-guy mentality we've had the last few years, guys kinda (thought), 'OK we're in and this is it.' Now, I think guys realize a lot of guys play this game for years and never even see the postseason. I think the understanding is there now."

The Steelers lost to the Ravens, 30-17, in the first round of the postseason last season.

They're embracing the first round this time around with a big-picture approach but also with a one-game-at-a-time focus.

"It's one playoff game but we want it to be one of four," Heyward said. "But to get four you gotta get one."

Added Brown: "It's always a challenge. You meet the previous guys that came before me; most of those elite guys have hardware. You always want to be mentioned in that type of environment. You want to walk in the building and see your legacy on one of those trophies.

"You always have that in mind, that vision. I think everybody wants to be Super Bowl champs, but it's one week at a time, one mission at a time, one opponent at a time."

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