Villanueva: 'I will follow him any day'


For the first three series of the fourth quarter, Ben Roethlisberger stood on the sidelines, his shoulder aching but more than anything his heart likely aching that he wasn't on the field with his teammates.

But when it came down to it, when the Steelers season was completely on the line in the AFC Wild Card game against the Bengals, Roethlisberger did what true leaders do. He put the pain as far in the back of his mind as he could and he returned to the game.

"He's the leader of the team," said tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former U.S. Army Ranger who more than anyone on a football field understands the true meaning of leader. "He understands the responsibility. He embodies all of the strength and courage you want to see in a great leader.

"It was encouraging for us on the offense when we saw him come out. And then he started making plays. He is an extreme competitor. We are honored to follow him in this journey."

Roethlisberger left the game at the end of the third quarter after a sack by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The Steelers had a 15-0 lead at the time, but the tide would quickly turn. The Bengals offense would take over, erasing the Steelers lead, going up 16-15. Landry Jones, who came off the bench to start the fourth quarter, threw a late interception that many thought sealed the win for the Bengals. As the Bengals looked like they were going to be able to run out the clock, linebacker Ryan Shazier striped the ball from Jeremy Hill and it was Steelers ball.

And that's when in Roethlisberger stepped in.

"We didn't know what to expect," said Villanueva. "He is slow to get off the ground some times, and rightfully so. He gets hit a lot. As an offensive lineman we have to do a better job protecting him. He took a hit from a very big guy. We were hoping the best for him. It was encouraging to see him come back in."

The offense rallied around their leader, giving them the push they needed to get into Cincinnati territory, where a pair of Bengals' penalties put them in field goal position.

"I will follow him any day," said Villanueva. "He is a guy cheering me when I make a mistake. When I get him hit, he is cheering me, encouraging me. He takes responsibility for everything the team does or fails to do and that is a definition of a leader, a definition I learned in the Army.

"He is doing great things, keeping this team motivated. He is giving direction and purpose to everybody out there. We just have to match his intensity and level of play so we will do great things."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.