Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Five thoughts on Steelers 23, Bengals 20

December 5, 2017 GMT

1. This will be remembered as the Steelers game where we stopped caring about football and worried only about Ryan Shazier.

The sight of Shazier, his lower body motionless on the turf at Paul Brown Stadium, was a harrowing reminder of the violence of NFL football and the fragility of those who play the game.

On a second-and-5 at the Steelers 20, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton completed a 3-yard pass to wide receiver Josh Malone. Shazier made the tackle, his helmet hitting Malone on the side.

Shazier reached with his left hand to his lower back, rolled over and signaled for help. His feet twitched, then he lay still at the 17 until he was taken off the field by cart while strapped to a stretcher, his hands covering his eyes.

That there was no thumb’s up from Shazier as he was carted off sent shivers through everyone watching, whether it was here in Cincinnati or on Monday Night Football.

2. Without word of Shazier’s injury, it was hard for those of us in the press box to concentrate on the game, hard to be impressed that the Steelers held the Bengals to a Randy Bullock 35-yard field goal or by Antonio Brown’s one-handed catch (he’s a lefty, by the way).

You can only imagine what was going through the Steelers’ minds.

The Steelers didn’t just lose an inside linebacker who’s having a Pro Bowl-caliber season — and was an NFL defensive player of year candidate — but a player they consider one of their brothers.

So maybe you can forgive that they surrendered two A.J. Green touchdowns for a 17-0 Bengals lead before snapping out of it late in the second quarter.

Tomlin didn’t have any update on Shazier’s status after the game but acknowledged that “it’s probably difficult for a lot of men to stay focused and play with their brother laid flat.

“Make no mistake, this is a tough business, a tough game. 5-0 is our brother. Our thoughts and prayers up to him.”

Then Le’Veon Bell turned a short, middle pass into a 33-yard gain, and Antonio Brown drew a 38-yard pass-interference penalty by Dre Kirkpatrick to set up Chris Boswell’s 30-yard field goal with five seconds left to cut it to 17-3 at halftime.

3. As scary as Shazier’s injury appeared, the sight of Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert whispering in Mike Tomlin’s ear on the sideline only accelerated everyone’s concerns.

I’m no lip reader, but it looked like Colbert was telling Tomlin that Shazier had no feeling in his lower body. The Steelers reported only that Shazier had a back injury and was taken to a hospital for evaluation. The possibility of paralysis left a lump in your throat, and pro teams, players, fans and media members were soon sending Shazier prayers through social media.

My father, a diabetic who died in May 1998, spent his final years in a wheelchair after having both legs amputated below the knee. Trust me, you wouldn’t wish that on anyone, especially a 25-year-old who is a father and was on the verge of NFL stardom.

But this is a brutal, violent game. The Steelers also lost Shazier’s backup, Tyler Matakevich, to a shoulder injury. The Bengals lost running back Joe Mixon (concussion), cornerback Adam Jones (groin) and linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who was the victim of a vicious crack-back block by Steelers rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster midway through the fourth quarter and suffered a head injury.

After watching that hit, send some prayers to Burfict, as well, even if you despise his play.

4. Odd to see the Bengals and Steelers have long touchdowns negated by holding penalties in successive series.

The Bengals blew a 61-yard touchdown pass to Green when Giovani Bernard was called for holding T.J Watt, and the Steelers responded in kind when a 96-yard kick return by Martavis Bryant was nullified by a flag on J.J. Wilcox.

The Bengals got a 41-yard field goal by Bullock for a 20-10 lead, but the Steelers were forced to punt.

Odder still was watching Bell bulldoze cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick on a fourth-and-1 run, the same player Bell stiff-armed into submission on a pass play in the first meeting Oct. 22 at Heinz Field. Where that sparked the Steelers to a 29-14 victory, this one was followed by a 14-yard pass to Brown and Bryant drawing a pass-interference penalty by Kirkpatrick to set up Chris Boswell’s 37-yard field goal to cut it to 20-13 with 10 minutes, 7 seconds remaining.

5. Somehow, the Steelers came back to tie the game.

And then win it.

One play after Smith-Schuster drew a personal foul for taunting, standing over the fallen Burfict, Ben Roethlisberger found Brown over the middle for a 24-yard gain to the Bengals’ 43. A third-and-4 pass to tight end Jesse James gave the Steelers a first-and-goal at the 6, and Big Ben fired a touchdown pass to Brown to make it 20-20 with 3:51 left.

The defense forced a three-and-out — thanks to Bud Dupree’s third-down sack — and the Steelers took over at their 41 with 2:42 remaining. Bell followed right guard David DeCastro’s block for a 9-yard run, then picked up a first down with a 3-yarder. Roethlisberger hit Bryant for 12 yards and another first down, then Bell for an 11-yard gain and yet another first down. Even better, Bell stayed inbounds to force the Bengals to take a timeout.

That set up Boswell for his second consecutive winning field goal, this one a 38-yarder and a 23-20 victory.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.