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Steelers News: Did the Pittsburgh Steelers play distracted after their pre-game protest?

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The Pittsburgh Steelers lost in Week 3, but did their off-field decisions play a role in the outcome of the game?

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Pittsburgh Steelers v Chicago Bears Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The story of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their National Anthem protest—or whatever you want to call it—is well written. No need to over-analyze the action itself, but did their actions off of the field impact their performance on it?

One could certainly suggest their lackluster start, including two turnovers in the first half, certainly had the earmarks of a distracted team. Countering this argument would be the fact that the defense shut out the Bears’ offense in the second half, and the offense was able to put up 10-points off of turnovers.

Either way you look at it and from whichever side of the fence you stand on, this debate will continue until the team gets back on the field in Week 4 to play the Baltimore Ravens.

Time to check on the news surrounding the Steelers outside the walls of BTSC:

Alejandro Villanueva had a plan for how these past couple days would go.

The Steelers’ left tackle — a West Point grad and Army Rangerwho was deployed in Afghanistan — would show up on Sunday, take part in a pregame exercise that the team had taken great pain to portray as a non-demonstration, play against the Bears, then head to the locker room.

“I’ll avoid you guys, I’ll shower and bring my clothes in, I would never address you guys and two weeks later you guys would be talking about something else,” he said Monday at the team’s practice facility.

“That was in my head what was gonna happen. Steelers don’t show up for the national anthem. There’s a debate nationally about what’s right or wrong. Everything goes down, we go back, talk about North Korea or the health care bill, and then we play the Baltimore Ravens and we forget about it.”

Nope.

“I hate attention,” Villanueva said. “I don’t like it. I’ll give you guys cliches so you guys will leave me alone, but when it comes to this, it’s a difficult situation. And I don’t like the attention.”

He got it, though. Hoo boy, did he get it. And if nothing else, he’s making the most of it. Villanueva on Monday came as close as anybody can to giving a set of answers that combined intellectual honesty and sensitivity to multiple sides. Unity is a tough sell. Villanueva took his best shot, and it was pretty good.

First thing’s first, though: Thanks to what he and two other teammates described as a Keystone Cop-caliber failure of execution involving a crowded tunnel, a flag-bearer and a whole bunch of terrible timing, Villanueva found himself alone, adjacent to Soldier Field.

Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Heyward were 20 feet behind him. Villanueva was left mouthing the words to the national anthem, with his hand over his heart. We were witnessing the birth of a meme. Villanueva was Gallant. The other 52 guys on the roster were one collective Goofus.

(Now, as far as how he got there, you either believe the guy or you don’t. He, Roethlisberger and Heyward all had the same explanation. After Saturday’s team meeting, Villanueva met with the captains and asked to change the plan. They agreed, and then things got waylaid in the chaos of the pregame tunnel.

By the time it was Villanueva’s turn to sell, I was buying. Does that make me a sucker? Maybe — but Villanueva seems constitutionally incapable of lying, at least on that level. If he was, he’s got an acting career ahead of him should football and video-game design not work out. The story was so stupid, it had to be true; like Villanueva said, over and over, they botched the whole deal. Badly.)

Many Steelers fans took to social media Sunday and Monday to voice their displeasure with the Steelers' decision to sit out the national anthem Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago.

As professional sports were roiled by President Donald Trump's comments that the NFL should fire any "son of a bitch" who doesn't stand for the national anthem, the team had voted Saturday to avoid singling out anyone who chose whether or not to protest by staying in the tunnel to the locker room during the anthem.

But many fans saw the absence of all but one player on the field — Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva — as an act of protest itself and lashed out at the team, Coach Mike Tomlin and the NFL in general.

Some fans said the Steelers players who stood in the team tunnel during the anthem — a move Tomlin said was meant to keep the team out of politics — showed a disrespect for the United States. Matt Drozd, an Air Force veteran and former Allegheny County Councilman, pledged to organize a boycott of the team and its merchandise.

"What does that flag mean? It drapes the coffins of soldiers," Drozd said. "The flag symbolizes more than what the president said... Just because they have a right, doesn't make it right."

Teri Sestilli of Hempfield said she was looking up all the teams with a significant number of players who protested during the anthem and boycotting them. As for the Steelers, she said, she would never watch another game.

"They're not (protesting) independently, they're doing it on the field, in defiance of their employers, their sponsors and their fans," said Sestilli, 64.

Online jersey sales for Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva jumped after he was the only player to leave the tunnel and stand on the field during the national anthem on Sunday amid league-wide protests.

The former Army Ranger's jersey was listed as the top seller among more than 10,000 football jersey products sold on NFLShop.com on Monday morning.

Villanueva was the top-selling NFL player over the last 24 hours, with the most jersey, T-shirt and other merchandise sales, said Brandon Williams, director of public relations for Fanatics, which runs NFLshop.com. Williams did not have any specific sales numbers to release, but said Villanueva had outsold Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott and Aaron Rodgers over the same 24-hour period.

Players throughout the NFL on Sunday had kneeled, linked arms or put their hands on kneeling teammates as a sign of protest after President Donald Trump's remarks suggesting the league should fire any “son of a bitch” who doesn't stand during the anthem. Former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick had started kneeling last season in protest of racism and the killing of unarmed black men by police, but hasn't been picked up by any teams in free agency this season.

Villanueva, a veteran of multiple terms in Afghanistan, surprised his teammates , who had agreed Saturday not to single out any players by remaining in their locker room during the anthem, according to ESPN. Instead, Villanueva took the field and the rest of the team remained in the tunnel before their loss to the Bears in Chicago.

While the Steelers had intended to act as a whole and not single out any players for whether or not they protested, they still faced backlash from fans for not coming onto the field.