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Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger:Ryan Shazier injury will 'make you evaluate things'

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, 11:39 a.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws to JuJu Smith-Shuster in the fourth quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws to JuJu Smith-Shuster in the fourth quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to pass during the fourth quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to pass during the fourth quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

The next time Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger talks about retiring, no one should be surprised.

Not when the game's violence continues to strike him and those close to him with greater and greater fury.

Speaking Tuesday on his weekly radio show on 93.7 FM, Roethlisberger said seeing teammate Ryan Shazier suffer a serious back injury Monday night in Cincinnati makes him evaluate his place in the game.

“People get all over me for saying you have to contemplate every year on if you want to keep going,” Roethlisberger said. “Plays like this make you really evaluate things.

“That's why I say it's a smart thing to do. It's a violent game. And this game (against the Bengals) always seems to be that way. It's crazy this sport we play.”

Roethlisberger, 35 and a father of three, spoke openly after the 2016 season about the possibility of retiring. Eventually, he decided to return for his 14th season but with no guarantee for a 15th.

“When we talked in the offseason about evaluating and making sure, these are the reasons,” he said. “Having kids ... I hope my son plays golf.

“If he wants to play football, that's fine, too. But it's a tough sport. It's not for everyone. If he wants to do it, I'll encourage it. If he doesn't, I'm just fine with that as well.”

Roethlisberger said he's been in Shazier's situation, laying on the field and leaving on a cart. He said his first act Monday was to start praying.

“You worry about family members back home,” he said.

Resuming the game wasn't easy, but it had to be done, he said.

“When you're out there, you're worried about him and his health, but you also understand that you have to continue to play a football game and you have to give your focus to that,” he said, “because if you're not focused and in tune to what's going on out there, you can get hurt as well.”

The Steelers managed to win the game, 23-20, but not before a total of 20 penalties leading to a loss of 239 yards were called on both teams.

Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was carted off the field after a high hit from wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Bengals safety George Iloka delivered a head-shot on wide receiver Antonio Brown at the end of the tying touchdown catch.

The NFL on Tuesday suspended Smith-Schuster and Iloka for one game.

Roethlisberber said he “absolutely” felt compassion for Burfict, who in the past injured Brown and Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell.

“I said a prayer for him there,” Roethlisberger said. “Regardless of what's happened in the past, regardless of what you think of him as a person or player, anytime someone goes down and is injured you have to feel compassion and feel compelled to pray for that person that he'll be OK.”

He added, however, that Bengals games feel like “more than just a tough, hard-nosed football game. There have been a lot of penalties, a lot of quote-unquote dirty play.

“One of the most worrisome things when you go into this game is the extra injury. That hit on AB was maybe the worst one of the night.”

He said he spoke to Smith-Schuster about the hit on Burfict.

“I don't think it was a cheap shot by any means,” Roethlisberger said. “Cheap shots are when you hit someone away from the play and go low on someone who's not looking. He's trying to block a guy who's probably going to make a tackle.

“Did he go a little high? Yes. Did he just happen to graze the helmet of Burfict? Yes. So, therefore, it's an illegal hit.”

But when Smith-Schuster taunted Burfict after the hit while standing over him, Roethlisberger said that crossed a line.

“I told him after, ‘Love the effort. Love how you're trying to help your teammate get open. Standing over a guy, uncalled for.'

“I think he knew it right away. He genuinely felt bad about that.”

Before the NFL announced the suspensions, Roethlisberger said, “I don't think anybody should be suspended. I definitely don't think JuJu should be suspended.”

Roethlisberger said Steelers/Bengals games are intentionally placed in prime time to maximize their appeal. The teams have played three Monday night games since 2010.

“I think the NFL, sometimes, they'll take any publicity they can get, good or bad,” he said. “They put it in prime time knowing that it's a physical game.

“Some people tune in just to see the physicality of the game, the hits, what's going to happen.

“I think as soon as Shazier goes down with that injury, a lot of people's tunes changed. I got a lot of texts, people were disturbed, just sick to their stomach the whole game.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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