The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, and as sweet as that was for the fan base, it couldn’t have felt better to anyone than Alejandro Villanueva just to get back to football. No longer thrust in front of cameras, asked about his military service, the national anthem or acts of protest, Villanueva could just play.
But after the game, when media members continued to surround his locker, Big Al had a few choice words for those with microphones pointed in his direction.
Time to recap the news from outside the walls of BTSC...
No Steelers player was happier when the ball was snapped on Sunday than left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
And none was more upset with the media after the game against the Baltimore Ravens concluded.
Following the Steelers' 26-9 win at M&T Bank Stadium, Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, lashed out about the media's portrayal of last weekend's national anthem protests.
"To wake up in the morning and see a face of Coach (Mike) Tomlin and a face of a soldier pitted against each other is completely unacceptable from the media," Villanueva said. "To use me as a tool to push agendas and to push messages, that's completely unacceptable. I understand you guys are trying to make your money, but in our locker room, we are trying to win football games and we are trying to be the best we can.”
"I'm very close to my values and how the team perceives me, so I am pretty happy to be a member of Steelers Nation trying to represent the city of Pittsburgh."
Villanueva became a folk hero and garnered unwanted national attention amid the anthem controversy when he was the lone Steelers player to be on the field last Sunday during the "Star Spangled Banner" at Soldier Field in Chicago. Sales of his jersey skyrocketed in the days after the game.
"I'm not a hero," Villanueva said. "I didn't do anything in the military that was outstanding. If you were to compare me to my peers, I was just average. … It was just a very unfortunate chain of events that I think I tried to handle as best as I was able."
Against the Ravens, Villanueva was part of an offensive line that allowed just one sack of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and contributed to Le'Veon Bell's season-high 144 rushing yards.
What is it about Gatorade coolers and the month of October that brings out the worst (or is it best?) in Pittsburgh professional athletes?
It wasn't as dynamic as when the Pirates' Sean Rodriguez delivered a series of punches on a Gatorade cooler in the 2015 National League wild-card loss to the Chicago Cubs, but Steelers receiver Antonio Brown had his moment with the big, orange container on Sunday in the Steelers' 26-9 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
After the Steelers failed to convert a first down on their second drive, Brown headed to the sideline, flipped over a Gatorade container and was seen yelling at coaches. The Steelers were leading 3-0 at the time.
Brown apparently was upset he wasn't targeted on a 3rd-and-4 at the Steelers' 36. Ben Roethlisberger threw incomplete to running back Le'Veon Bell, and the Steelers had to punt.
"It's like a kid being excited for Christmas," Brown said. "You work on it. You're expecting that pay on that day. Sometimes, it doesn't work out, and you move on."
At that point, Brown had two catches for 24 yards. He finished the game by catching four of nine targets for 34 yards.
Brown said he had no problem with his sideline behavior: "No regrets."
Brown's offensive teammates also downplayed the Gatorade flip.
"AB is a play-maker. We have a lot on this field and sometimes there's not enough footballs to go around to everybody," Roethlisberger said. "I think AB is very passionate about wanting to help this team. … I think that's nothing more than a competitor wanting the ball every single play, and you can't blame him for that."
Ryan Shazier celebrated his fourth-quarter interception with a dance the Baltimore Ravens would recognize.
The Steelers inside linebacker slid to his right, then to his left and finished by emphatically pulling his arms down with his chest out.
“You're talking about the Ray Lewis celebration?” Shazier said, with a sly smile. “You know, we're here in Baltimore, and my goal is to be the No. 1 defense and the No. 1 defensive player on the field every week.”
“He has a great legacy. There's so much going on between him and the Steelers. I thought it would be amazing if I could go out there and do that. Sometimes, I just try to make the home team a little madder than I normally do, just to (tick) those guys off a little bit and have a little fun.”
What should have made the Ravens a little madder wasn't only the Steelers' 26-9 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, but Shazier's impact on it.
Shazier had a team-best 11 tackles (10 solo and one for a loss), three passes defensed — including a tip that led to cornerback Mike Hilton's first NFL interception — and his own pick.
A Ray Lewis-like performance.
“The type of stuff he's able to do, not a lot of people are able to mirror it,” said Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt. “To have him behind us, we already know it's kind of going to be impossible to get to the second level.”
Likewise, Shazier raved about playing behind Cameron Heyward and Tuitt, who combined for seven tackles, four quarterback hits — including two-and-a-half sacks plus a fumble recovery.
“If they can't make the play,” Shazier said, “they're just going to destroy the play and let other people to flow and make it.”
It was the first time this season the Steelers' front-7 started together and it gave a glimpse of how dominant this defense can be when healthy.
Aside from what Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called “popcorn” — gains of 23 and 50 yards by Ravens running back Alex Collins — it was a defensive gem. The Steelers had four sacks for minus-29 yards, forced three turnovers and held the Ravens to 82 rushing yards after allowing 220 last week in the overtime loss at Chicago.
“This game shows what we're truly capable of,” Shazier said. “We played a really good team, a division rival. It's always a pretty good game when we play each other, and I think this game really showed people that when we're hitting on all cylinders we're a pretty tough team.”
But despite a double-digit victory over an opponent against which 27 of the previous 42 regular-season games were decided by one score, the Steelers still weren't satisfied.
They gave up the two big runs, nearly blew a 19-0 halftime lead and had to make a fourth-down stop at the 4-yard line in the final seconds to prevent the Ravens from scoring again.
“We're not even at our best yet,” Tuitt said. “Every week, we're going to get better and push until we get to our goal. ... This is not the best. This is probably like a C-plus. That's how I see it. I'm a tough grader.”
The Ravens lost 26-9 to the Steelers on Sunday, which means they’ve been outscored 70-16 over the last two weeks while dropping to 2-2 on the season.
Quarterback Joe Flacco was 31-of-49 for 235 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions this week, and that led him to make a succinct assessment of his play.
“I sucked. It wasn’t good,” Flacco said, via Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun.
Flacco’s numbers were better than they were against the Jaguars in Week 3, but that doesn’t make his take on Sunday’s outing any less accurate. The Ravens were still breathing—down 10 in the fourth quarter—when a pair of Flacco interceptions all but turned out the lights on any hopes of coming back.
Quarterback isn’t the only issue with the Ravens right now. Flacco isn’t getting much help from his receivers, offensive line or running game, but it’s impossible to ignore how little production they’ve gotten from their most important offensive position. Ryan Mallett seems unlikely to deliver better results, so it’s hard to see anything they can do about it besides hoping Flacco can turn things around in the coming weeks.