Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier remains at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center on Tuesday while dealing with a back injury that left his teammates shaken but cautiously optimistic.
A joint statement from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s director of neurotrauma David Okonkwo and chief of neurosurgery for UC Health Joseph Cheng said Shazier has undergone a series of tests to evaluate his spine injury.
— Burt Lauten (@SteelersPRBurt) December 5, 2017
According to ESPN’s Aditi Kinkhabwala, the Steelers sent a private plane to pick up Shazier’s parents in Florida, so they could be with their son in Cincinnati.
Shazier later took to Twitter to thank everyone for the support.
Thank you for the prayers. Your support is uplifting to me and my family. #SHALIEVE
— Ryan Shazier (@RyanShazier) December 5, 2017
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin offered no immediate update on Shazier, who left in the first quarter of Monday night’s 23-20 victory over Cincinnati following a tackle that left the 25-year-old writhing on the turf at Paul Brown Stadium, his legs motionless.
Shazier underwent an MRI and CT Scan overnight, with the team saying Shazier’s injury did not require surgery “at this time.”
Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert and team president Art Rooney II visited Shazier before heading back to Pittsburgh. Tomlin called their conversation “normal” and that 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.
Tomlin declined to get into specifics about the nature of Shazier’s injury, saying he’ll wait until the medical team overseeing Shazier has a clearer picture.
“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 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.”
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell tweeted Tuesday that he’d spoken with Shazier.
For those concerned just got off the phone with 50. He’s in good spirits already making progress! God has him. Keep praying keep believing in faith. Never thought I’d say this but #Shalieve lol
— Mike Mitchell (@iammikemitchell) December 5, 2017
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 their 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 with one of its young stars in another state, surrounded by doctors and his family, his future uncertain.
“When they come into the building tomorrow,” Tomlin said, “we will reset and start anew like we always do.”