The Steelers Make a Statement to the AFC and Themselves in Throttling of Ravens

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterOctober 2, 2017

Le'Veon Bell, corredor de los Steelers de Pittsburgh, anota en un acarreo durante el encuentro del domingo 1 de octubre de 2017, frente a los Ravens de Baltimore (AP Foto/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon/Associated Press

BALTIMORE — In the second quarter Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium, a seething Antonio Brown approached a Gatorade bucket. The bucket didn't stand a chance.

Brown tossed it about a yard. (Likely giving him a better quarterback rating than Jay Cutler in Week 4.)

Brown was upset about some miscommunication he'd had with Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers quarterback looked right and Brown was uncovered left. These things happen in football, but Brown went full Terrell Owens. When offensive coordinator Todd Haley tried to grab Brown by the collar to calm him down, Brown shoved his hand away.

Brown has always been more fiery than people know. His gyrating post-touchdown hips hide an intense competitor, and while he's not Odell Beckham Jr. diva-ish, he is a fighter, like his team.

"AB is a playmaker," Roethlisberger said after the game, "and he is very passionate. He feels he has to do everything he can to help us to win. We're fine now. Sometimes there aren't enough footballs to go around."

The truth is, Brown has carried this offense on his pissed-off shoulders this season, as Le'Veon Bell has slowly worked his way back into game shape after missing almost all of camp and Roethlisberger hasn't quite been himself. The argument can be made that Brown always carries this offense, but this year, in some ways, he's been bolder and badder than ever. Entering the game against the Ravens, Brown led the NFL in receiving yards.

Dan Levy @DanLevyThinks

Antonio Brown was not happy on the Steelers sideline. https://t.co/zadJQFqGt2

But Brown now has company.

The Steelers beat the Ravens, 26-9, on Sunday. But that's only part of the story. What's impossible to ignore is how good of a team the Steelers are becoming. They are nimble, hungry and mean again. Bell is closer to getting back his Bell-ness. Combine those things with a defense that prolonged the season-long struggles of Joe Flacco, and the Steelers are setting themselves up to be a dominant force in the conference. 

In the first half alone, the Steelers had 11 plays of 10 or more yards. The Ravens defense isn't great, but it's solid, and solid wasn't enough to handle the spark Brown and a re-emerging Bell gave the Steelers offense.

In the postgame locker room, the Steelers were confident but tried not to read too much into the win. This is to be expected from a team led by a veteran coach and quarterback who've seen it all. But after speaking to players in the locker room Sunday, I sensed the offense believes it has turned a corner. 

Indeed, this was Pittsburgh's first win in Baltimore during the Roethlisberger era since 2010.

The Steelers are far from perfect. But Pittsburgh's physical play will be able to match anyone's. Bell's 35 carries Sunday were the second-most ever against the Ravens (Ricky Williams had 36 in 2003). In total, Bell had 144 yards rushing and two scores while adding four catches for 42 yards.

It wasn't the easiest of weeks for the Steelers. They won't admit this publicly, but their protest last week, like perhaps with many other teams, caused a strain inside the locker room.

The Steelers decided to stay off the field during the playing of the national anthem last week. Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva stood outside the tunnel alone, and Roethlisberger issued a statement on his website the following day expressing regret about how it was handled.

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Players told me there was still some tension remaining from what happened as they prepared for the showdown with the Ravens, and coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that he wanted to see the Steelers remain together as a team. This is not to make a huge deal of anything, but this week, both the players to each other and coaches to the players emphasized how unity was required to win.

Villanueva made it clear his beef was not with teammates but with the media. He was angry over the media's portraying what happened as him against Tomlin or his teammates (though I don't know of anyone in the media who did this).

"I'm tired of the cameras in my face all the time," Villanueva told reporters after the game Sunday. "It's completely unacceptable to use me as a tool to push an agenda."

On Sunday, before beating the Ravens, the players stood together on the sideline during the anthem. Then, they produced a nasty, physical beatdown of a division rival.

Any tension that remained was likely pushed under the surface, Brown's demolition of that poor Gatorade bucket notwithstanding.

"I thought our guys responded in the appropriate way," Tomlin said. "Not only to the environment and the opponent, but just largely to the challenge all week. Just being able to stay focused. Stay together. Do the job. That's what professionals are called to do."

Asked if he felt the team prepared well this week in light of what happened post-protest the week before, Tomlin responded: "Based on the result of the game, yes."

Tomlin's ability to rally his team is vastly underrated. No one in football is better.

Gail Burton/Associated Press

"I'm so proud of my teammates, even more than the win right now, that we went out there and represented the organization the right way," center Maurkice Pouncey said when asked about the Steelers' standing together before the game.

Bell was one of those who represented the team well, and one of the players Tomlin felt was able to stay focused amid a chaotic week. Wearing his headphones on his face, ear portions covering his temples, Bell made it clear what his goal was.

"I wanted to get back to being that special player," Bell said. 

He did, and because of that the Steelers are back. They are also, for the moment, unified.

And scary. Damn scary.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.  


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