In the hunt:** There is no doubt that Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field is one of the most important games on the Steelers schedule and it's not just because it's the next game. It's because at this point of the season games take on a whole new meaning.
"It's like a playoff, must-win atmosphere," said cornerback Ike Taylor. "Both teams are in the hunt for the playoffs. Miami is putting themselves in position and so are we. This is a huge game. It's going to tell a lot. This game is like a playoff game."
The Steelers sit at 5-7, not a comfortable spot in a tight AFC race where they are the ninth seed. The Dolphins are 6-6, the seventh seed going into this week's game.
"Every game from here on out is do or die," said wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. "If you lose, you can be out of it. That is how we have to approach it. For us that is pretty much reality because we would lose tie-breakers. We are playing a team in the hunt in Miami and it's going to be a playoff atmosphere."
Turning up the heat: With their playoff fate hanging in the balance Taylor said you can definitely feel the intensity pick up, something that just happens naturally this time of year. And for the younger players who haven't experienced that feeling yet, it's something they can just sense.
"The intensity magnifies in practice," said Taylor. "You are running faster, there is more attention to detail. That is what they see. Everybody is talking. Everybody is on their Ps and Qs.
"When you are pushing for the playoffs, everything is magnified because it's a loser goes home atmosphere. It fires you up and everyone is ready to go. When you are in that position mentally, and all 11 guys are with you, it's a good situation."
The team had a "bonus" day of practice on Monday coming off a Thursday night game, and receiver Antonio Brown said you could already feel things picking up.
"Everyone understands the position we are in and what is important," said Brown. "There is a lot of emphasis on the game this week and every one after that. Everyone is on their game, buying in and in tune to what we want to accomplish.
"Each guy in a helmet is giving their all. Everyone is on their assignment. That is the type of team and environment you want to be in when it's December football."