Kevin Gorman: Steelers beat Bengals in walk-off victory for Ryan Shazier
The Pittsburgh Steelers sure know how to stop your heart and steal your breath, whether it’s by blowing a late lead or answering with a winning drive in the final seconds.
The Steelers did both in their 28-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, which began with a breathtaking scene that stole our hearts.
Ryan Shazier walked onto the football field.
That was the most magical moment, with apologies to Antonio Brown’s 31-yard touchdown catch from Ben Roethlisberger to cap the Steelers’ seven-play, 77-yard winning drive in the final minute.
The last time we were here, Dec. 4, Shazier exited the stadium in a sickening scene: Strapped to a motorized cart amid fears he faced a lifetime of paralysis. Since Shazier underwent spinal-cord stabilization surgery, he has rehabilitated and recovered enough to walk without assistance into the stadium where his career came to a crossroads. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin gave Shazier a hug in the end zone.
“Some things are bigger than football, obviously,” Tomlin said. “This is one of them.”
If the sight of Shazier wasn’t inspiring, check your pulse.
The Steelers didn’t have to say that they played this game for Shazier. There was no shortage of motivation, starting with their spot in the AFC North standings. They were in last place. The Bengals were in first. A win, their first in three division games, could close that gap. A loss could be devastating to their goal of playing football in January.
“This game is hard enough as it is. To see a guy like that and how much he’s been through, all he’s given us is extra pride and determination,” Steelers right guard David DeCastro said. “What he’s gone through and how strong he is as a man and human, it’s inspiring. … Everybody gained a little strength from him.”
Truth be told, the problem for the Steelers has been winning without Shazier. Their defense just isn’t the same without the All-Pro inside linebacker, who was both their leading tackler and one of their best pass defenders. The Bengals, like everybody else, exploited his absence.
But there is a consistent theme in these Steelers-Bengals games here, where four of the last five meetings have been decided by seven points or fewer. Last year, it ended here on a Chris Boswell field goal in the final second. This year, it was on a Ben-to-AB touchdown play with 10 seconds left.
“That is a disappointing way to lose a football game,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We have to figure out a way to stop the (Steelers) offense and win the football game.”
The Bengals sure have figured out how to lose them to the Steelers, who had their share of special teams gaffes and curious coaching calls that led to a lot of second-guessing. The Bengals’ frustration was evident, from the postgame skirmish to their comments where they refused to concede that the Steelers were superior.
“We’re better than them — they’re not better than us,” Kirkpatrick said. “They got the win. We got the loss. But they ain’t better than us.”
On this walk-off weekend, where Pittsburgh celebrated the 58th anniversary of Bill Mazeroski’s World Series-winning home run and endured the 26th of Sid Bream’s slide, the Steelers had their own storybook ending.
“It was heartfelt,” Brown said. “Ryan is a unique player, a unique individual. He’s one of the guys who lets us know it’s bigger than football.
“To see him go through this journey, it gives us a lot of courage and inspiration to see him walking around and smiling. And I know he felt good about what we were able to do for him.”
The Steelers felt better about what they were able to do with Shazier, as Roethlisberger walked off the field with him. That would have seemed nothing short of miraculous 10 months ago. Now, it’s as expected as winning in Cincinnati.
“Walking off the field with him was emotional just because, obviously, of what happened and what he means to us and this team,” Roethlisberger said, his voice cracking and his eyes glistening. “I mentioned in the prayer afterwards that we’re thankful, thankful that he is walking now and doing things.
“Obviously, he’s not to where he wants to be, in playing football again. But just the fact that he’s able to walk and we can see him walk off that field and walk off with him, it was special. This is a place that we’ll always remember, not just for football but for life.”
That’s what we should remember about this place, not just where the Steelers win and the Bengals lose.
It’s where Shazier’s walk-off won the day, not just for football but for life.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.