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Steelers back in position to affect AFC playoff picture

PITTSBURGH -- The tone and outlook completely shifted within hours.

In the fourth quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers' win over the Oakland Raiders, right tackle Marcus Gilbert was smashing his helmet on the ground in disgust as Ben Roethlisberger left the field once more on a cart.

About an hour later, the Steelers seemed at ease in the locker room, ready for anything. They've seen their injury report fill up weekly. What's another one?

Then, by Sunday night, news broke that Roethlisberger will likely miss only a few weeks with a foot sprain. Not a season-ender.

The reality is this: The Steelers can, and should, go 6-4 entering the Week 11 bye, with Roethlisberger set to return shortly after that. Only the Cleveland Browns stand in the way of that. And Cleveland is, well, Cleveland. No reason why the Steelers, even with Landry Jones, can't shake a struggling Browns squad.

This is what playoff rejuvenation looks like.

"We look at this as a fresh start to a new season," Antonio Brown said after his brilliant performance of 17 catches for 284 yards.

The Steelers could sense the calm even when the avalanche started -- the Big Ben injury, Brown dropping a punt, the Raiders' offense surging.

Offensive guard Ramon Foster said players didn't discuss the injury on the sideline because they were convinced they were winning, and "we just made it happen."

The Steelers are an imperfect team that can offset their flaws with flare. On defense, they will give up big plays -- and there were several from the Raiders' offense -- but created multiple turnovers once again. Mike Tomlin opened up his press conference with the words "great fight," which is how the Steelers want it.

They aren't going to blow teams out, especially with Roethlisberger out again. They have to outmuscle teams for wins, while letting Brown and the offense handle the rest.

"Do whatever you can within the parameters of the game," cornerback Antwon Blake said about playing with an edge. "That's what we do."

Defensive end Cam Heyward said the defense played "like crap" Sunday, and he's right in some spots. The Steelers missed tackles and let too many receivers slip past them for easy scores. Miscommunication was happening often. But the Steelers are active hitters, which safety Mike Mitchell said offenses are starting to notice by avoiding the middle of the field at times. Mitchell got a big hit on Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray, knocking Murray out of the game while forcing a fumble.

Couple that attitude with at least four capable playmakers on offense and the Steelers can make a playoff push regardless of roster shuffling, assuming Roethlisberger is back relatively soon. The loss of Le'Veon Bell threatened the Steelers' offensive balance, but DeAngelo Williams is proving that's not an issue. In three starts for Bell, Williams is averaging 124.6 rushing yards per game.

The Steelers will likely battle with the Jets (5-3) and possibly the Raiders (4-4) for wild card spots.

"Whatever the circumstances are," tight end Heath Miller said, "we are going to come to work, do our best to execute the game plan and see what happens."