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For Ben Roethlisberger, a beard and a brace for the stretch run

PITTSBURGH -- He insists the growth on his face from the bye week is not a playoff beard, it's simply a beard.

But Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has reasons to feel refreshed coming off the bye. The swelling in his sprained foot has subsided. He'll continue to wear a brace on his knee, which he sprained in Week 3. The offense has the next month to improve its 23.6 points-per-game average.

"We've all been kind of waiting on it," said Roethlisberger of the bye week leading into the final six-game stretch.

Roethlisberger has been studying the Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom. He goes to Seattle, his first work trip there, with momentum. His Total QBR of 73.5 is the second-best in the NFL and sets the pace for his best rating in the last 10 seasons. He also has a league-high 11 completions on passes thrown at least 30 yards downfield, despite playing just six games.

The Seahawks are still one of the most capable groups to thwart those stats. Roethlisberger has enough respect for Seattle's defensive backfield that he won't over-target Antonio Brown if the Seahawks pay him extra attention, no matter how tempting it is to throw his way.

"We’re not going to try to force anybody the ball. We’re going to play our game," Roethlisberger said.