BALTIMORE – The Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t trying to make any kind of statement prior to last week’s loss at Chicago, when they weren’t on the field for the playing of the national anthem. For some people, that became a statement unto itself.
The Steelers fully intended to make a statement Sunday. And there was no ambiguity.
As center Maurkice Pouncey said they would, the Steelers stood at attention for the anthem prior to the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Steelers then made a statement of another kind by running over, around and through the Ravens in a 26-9 victory.
“I made a big-time statement and that was from the heart,” said Pouncey, who last week said his team would be at attention on the sideline after staying in a stadium tunnel last week in Chicago.
“I truly felt like that. I feel like, as football players, we can make a difference, and it isn’t on a Sunday or on a Monday or Thursday. We can make an impact on a lot of kids’ lives.”
The Steelers and all NFL teams do that. They give back to their communities.
On this day, the Steelers were making an impact of a completely different type. This was a business trip to Baltimore.
And the Steelers were all about the business of football.
“We had a sour taste in our mouths,” said defensive end Cameron Heyward, speaking of both the loss to the Bears and the fallout that came afterward.
“We were ready for this game since Sunday. We were ready to move on. We were ready to go out and play on Monday.”
They had to wait. And they took out their frustration on the Ravens.
Some people might not believe the statements that have come from the team and its players since the attempt to dodge the anthem controversy went awry when left tackle and Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva could be seen standing for the anthem alone – though his teammates were at attention in the tunnel just 20 feet behind him.
It was a strong visual. But it wasn’t what the Steelers wanted.
It definitely wasn’t what Villanueva wanted.
“It’s sad because we had the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game and everybody is focused on the pregame procedures,” Villanueva said. “I thought the team tried its best last week to handle things right but unfortunately, we don’t always get it right.”
The Steelers might not have gotten it right in the eyes of many in Chicago. They did in Baltimore.
They stood at attention for the anthem as they had done in every other game. The only difference between this and past performances, at least in Baltimore, is they also took care of their business on the field.
The Steelers controlled the clock with a rushing attack that produced 173 yards, led by 144 by Le’Veon Bell.
Defensively, they got after Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, sacking him four times, hitting him six other times and intercepting him twice.
It was a total team victory by a team brought closer together by controversy.
“There’s a lot of miscommunication from the media and with the players here,” said Villanueva, who felt like he was unfairly singled out and his actions were misconstrued and turned into something they were not.
“I love my teammates. I love the organization, Coach (Mike) Tomlin and the offensive line. I love coming to work every single day. I enjoy being a Steeler. We did the best we could. In the end, we were able to come together and put on a good performance. That’s all that matters.”
That might not be good enough for some people. They might still hold a grudge over a decision made by a bunch of mostly 20-something football players.
Some might believe the Steelers didn’t show enough remorse over what happened.
That’s fine. This is, after all, the United States and we have the freedom to choose what we watch or don’t watch for entertainment.
Perhaps Villanueva summed it up the best.
“Every citizen has their rights,” he said. “I’m not into the politics of the game. I’m just a football player.”
And on this day, they just played football.
Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.