'It's about us'

After a season that didn't end the way they expected, an offseason the likes of which they probably hope they'll never have to endure again and a preseason that offered promise and potential, the Steelers are at last ready to begin again.

The first stop on the road back is Foxborough, Mass.

Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva maintains the Steelers will be in a good place, individually and collectively, when they get there.

"I think as a team and as a Steeler, it's been really good," Villanueva assessed of the preseason. "There's a sense of pride in being a Steeler and not being on another team, and that's rare to find in the NFL.

"The most important attribute of an athlete is how do you bounce back? How do you react to adversity? Our reaction, in my opinion, has been good. We don't know if it's effective or not. We haven't played a single game yet. But it does feel good to be a Steeler. It does feel like we're in a very good environment. It does feel like we're more insecure, and that is driving us to work harder."

That sense of pride in the organization is rare, Villanueva said, in a profession where normally "you want to be wherever they love you and wherever they pay you."

The insecurity referenced stems from Villanueva's perception that the Steelers, for the first time in his career, are being doubted more than they are touted.

"The question that we have this offseason of, are you good enough to even play a football game right now,? We felt like that, somewhat, at the end of the season," he said. "That question is really good in terms of developing your inner competitive spirit and trying to prove everybody wrong.

"It motivates you to work a lot harder and it motivates the team to find ways to answer that question. It's an easier mentality to have. What you're looking for is hard work, innovation, connecting with your teammates, playing as a group, playing together.

"Hopefully, this sentiment can be aligned and can translate into victories. If so, then it would be a narrative that could be spread across the NFL that yes, this togetherness and teamwork and all that stuff overcomes talent and any other issues that you might have in the offseason that might prevent you from accomplishing those goals."

Before that can happen, the Steelers have to win.

They have to make the playoffs.

They have to contend for if not win another Vince Lombardi Trophy.

"This is all great in theory but at the end of the day it means nothing," Villanueva acknowledged. "This is a business and this is as cutthroat as it gets.The only thing that matters is who wins the game."

The first opportunity to win one of those that matters will occur on Sunday night against the defending-Super Bowl champions, against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Villanueva appreciates the challenge, and the approach the Steelers are embracing in response.

"It's about us," he said. "Just like Coach (Mike) Tomlin says, he makes a very good analogy about the nameless, gray faces that are across from us whether they're the New England Patriots or any other team.

"Very good football team, historically the best, I think, that has ever played, but it still doesn't matter. We could play the All-Madden Team the first game of the season, it's about us and our execution."