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Steelers tight end Miller feeling his way back

| Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, 10:33 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers tight end Heath Miller catches a pass in front of the Lions' Don Carey during the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Admittedly, it has taken Heath Miller more time than expected to hit his stride since returning from a knee injury that forced him to miss the first two games of the season.

While there wasn't a limp, he didn't run routes confidently. Miller, who often is limited in practice, has had to pace himself.

On Sunday, the veteran tight end appeared self-assured in registering a game-high eight receptions in the Steelers' gutsy 37-27 come-from-behind win over the favored Detroit Lions at Heinz Field.

Still, Miller isn't yet where he wants to be. And he was pained some by an uncharacteristic drop in the end zone that forced the Steelers to settle for a field goal — another red-zone blunder that characterizes the offense.

The Steelers were able to hang with Detroit after getting smoked in the second quarter. But they were aided in the second half when Miller exploited a Lions' defense that struggled to contain wide receiver Antonio Brown, who had touchdown receptions of 34 and 47 yards.

“I can't control the opportunities I get, but I have to make the most of ones I get,” Miller said. “I hadn't done that the past couple of weeks.”

In the previous two games against New England and Buffalo, Miller had only 10 targets and five receptions. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger targeted him 10 times against the Lions, including 9- and 11-yard receptions during the game-winning 16-play, 97-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter.

Miller is encouraged that the Steelers are headed in the right direction as they prepare to play at Cleveland on Sunday in a key AFC North game.

“We had some opportunities there (in the red zone),” Miller said. “Obviously, the play to me that we didn't make and we had the first-and-goal — that was two field goals. But we were able to make enough plays at the end. Hats off to everybody for sticking together at the end, and it worked out for us.”

The outcome could have easily been different if Miller hadn't stepped up on the field and in the locker room. The soft-spoken Miller challenged his teammates to pull it together after the Lions surged ahead with a 27-point second quarter.

“I talked to the guys in the locker room about staying together and staying with it after the break,” he said. “We stuck to the plan and kept believing in each other.”

Now there's a belief in the locker room that the Steelers' once-dim playoff hopes have been revived. At 4-6, they share second place with the Browns and reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore behind division leader Cincinnati (7-4).

Miller knows the Steelers will have to get better in the red zone and achieve better balance to survive road matchups at Cleveland and Baltimore. Unlike the build-up to Detroit, when Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh garnered much of the attention, the focus shifts back to the Steelers' playoff chances.

“It's OK with us that no one was paying attention because there are a lot of things we need to get better at,” Miller said. “Certainly, you see signs of our potential with the guys we have on the field. I think we have to continue to shoot for the ceilings. There's no doubt we're not there yet.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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