Cincinnati Bengals half back Giovani Bernard (25) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers' Ryan Shazier (50) during the first half of play at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, December 4, 2017. File photo by John Sommers II /UPI | License Photo
PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Shazier watched from a hospital bed Sunday night as his Pittsburgh Steelers blew a lead, rallied to come within a yard of tying the score, blew it again, and then rallied again for a 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens that clinched the AFC North Division.
The Steelers huddled around a cell phone in the locker room to FaceTime their fallen defensive playmaker and told Shazier he was getting the game ball. They also promised to bring him a hat and T-shirt commemorating the clinching, presumably when visiting hours resume in the morning.
"Tonight," linebacker Vince Williams corrected. "We are going to give him the hat and T-shirt tonight."
Defensive end Cam Heyward added, "We let him know hospital security had better be ready because he's getting his hat and shirt tonight."
The Steelers planned to visit their fallen "brother" late, and then again early in the week while they have some time off before resuming their schedule against the visiting New England Patriots on Sunday for the edge in the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The Steelers are 11-2 and the Patriots hope to get to that record Monday night against Miami, but the Steelers, minus Shazier, who is fighting to regain the use of his legs, don't appear to have enough defense for the high-powered Patriots. At least not after allowing 38 points, 152 rushing yards and 413 yards of total offense to the Ravens on Sunday night.
"Those boys just did a great job," Williams said of the Ravens. "They've got some good blocking tight ends. They've got a hard-nosed running back. We were hurting ourselves with some penalties, blew some concepts we should've been able to recognize. That happens in football games, but that's football.
"It's hard to win. These hats right here, they don't just give these hats away. You've got to go out there against good football teams and you've got to gut it out. Everything's not going to be blowouts and domination."
Particularly without Shazier, the defensive signal-caller, top tackler and possibly the fastest player on the team.
"He's such a vocal part of not just our defense, but our whole team," running back Le'Veon Bell said. "Obviously, we always want him out here. We want him around. I miss him. That's my brother. That's one of my closest friends in this whole entire world. Not to have him here, obviously we wanted to go out and win this game for him. I love him to death."
That was the genuine feeling that ran throughout this team. Ben Roethlisberger talked about visiting Shazier on Thursday, and the quarterback exclaimed that he came away feeling much better about his teammate's situation.
"It was like a weight was lifted off my back," Roethlisberger said. "I told the guys about it on Friday when I went in, and guys just started to go visit him. Everyone has felt the same way. When you walk in and see him and see the smile and give him a hug, it really has taken that weight off and let us breathe a little easier. We love our brother, and we wanted to get this one for him, and I'm glad we did."
Shazier was taken from Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati on a stretcher on Dec. 4 after losing feeling in his legs following a tackle. He began to regain some feeling in his legs by the next morning, but after being transferred to Pittsburgh he underwent spinal stabilization surgery.
The team has honored the family's wishes by not releasing any health updates, but sources indicate that Shazier will walk again, although he must wait for swelling to clear before further progress can be made.
"There's going to be a lot more FaceTimes with Ryan," said Williams, perhaps the closest teammate to Shazier both on and off the field. "I felt that was significant because of the situation. Ryan is one of my closest friends. I'm going to talk to Ryan until we die. That's my guy."