BY WILL GRAVES
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier will remain in a Cincinnati hospital until at least Wednesday to undergo further testing on a spinal injury suffered in the first quarter of Monday night’s win over the Bengals.
Shazier left Paul Brown Stadium on a stretcher less than four minutes into his team’s 23-20 victory over Cincinnati following a tackle that left the 25-year-old writhing on the turf, his legs motionless. He underwent extensive testing overnight, with the team saying Shazier’s injury did not require surgery “at this time.”
The Steelers had hoped Shazier would be able to return to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The timetable has been pushed back at least 24 to 48 hours. He will remain at University of Cincinnati Medical Center under the care of neurosurgeons David Okonwko and Joseph Cheng. Shazier is expected to be transferred to a Pittsburgh hospital later in the week.
While the severity of the injury will remain unknown until the swelling subsides, the relentlessly upbeat Shazier offered a bit of hope Tuesday evening.
“Thank you for the prayers,” Shazier tweeted . “Your support is uplifting to me and my family. #SHALIEVE”
While Shazier stayed in Cincinnati surrounded by family and his medical team, the Steelers are left trying to find a way forward without one of their rising stars.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert and team president Art Rooney II visited Shazier before heading back to Pittsburgh. Tomlin called their conversation “normal” and said Shazier was concerned about the well-being of the rest of the team, including good friend and fellow inside linebacker Vince Williams.
“Ryan is a legitimate leader,” Tomlin said. “He’s asking about the guys, Vince particularly. I told him about the guys. We talked about how the game unfolded.”
And not about Shazier’s prognosis.
“It was painful to get on that plane last night, but that’s life,” Tomlin said. “We realize and understand he’s in really good hands and is getting expert medical care. He challenged us to move on with what we need to move on with.”
Shazier’s injury came on a relatively innocuous-looking play. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton hit Josh Malone for a short 3-yard gain, with Shazier hitting Malone square in the back. Shazier, in his fourth season after being taken in the first round of the 2014 draft, led with his head while making the tackle.
He immediately rolled over onto his back, raising his hands in the air while his legs went limp. He was placed on a backboard, then put on a stretcher before being taken to the trauma center at University of Cincinnati Medical Center while players from both sides watched in silence or knelt in prayer.
“I’ve been in football all my life. Unfortunately injuries occur, serious injuries occur from time to time. They’re capable of shaking you,” Tomlin said. “We all deal with it in different ways.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio spot on 93.7 The Fan that he’d heard “encouraging things” but that Shazier was “not out of the woods.”
Pittsburgh appeared to spend much of the first half in a daze following Shazier’s exit, falling behind by 17 points before rallying to win its seventh straight on Chris Boswell’s field goal on the final snap, culminating more than three hours of occasionally brutal play.
The teams combined for 239 penalty yards and five personal fouls, including a taunting penalty on Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for a blindside hit on Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict that resulted in Smith-Schuster being hit with a one-game suspension .
Bengals defensive back George Iloka was also suspended one game for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
“I’ll acknowledge there were some unfortunate things in that game that we don’t need in our game by both sides,” Tomlin said. “My job as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers is to work hard to minimize those things that we’re involved in before they occur and we do.
“But they did (occur) last night in an instance or two and we’ll make an accounting of that and work hard to make sure they don’t happen again.”
While Tomlin, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and the league grapple with how to rein in a rivalry in which the bad blood only seems to grow with each passing year, support for Shazier extended far beyond the NFL.
Ian Cole, a defenseman on the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, called it a “shock” to see Shazier go down so awkwardly.
“We’re not friends, we’re not buddies, by any means,” said Cole, who has met Shazier a handful of times. “But you do feel that kinship and it’s tough to see a guy go down like that, especially someone that’s as talented and as huge a part of a team as he is.”
The Steelers (10-2) spent Tuesday taking a breath before trying to regroup for a visit by AFC North rival Baltimore (7-5) next Sunday night.
A win and Pittsburgh will wrap up its third division title in four years, a prospect made more difficult without Shazier, though Tomlin is well aware prioritizing the impact on the lineup seems trivial.
Still, it’s part of the job.
“When they come into the building tomorrow,” Tomlin said, “we will reset and start anew like we always do.”
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