Steelers: Ryan Shazier avoids surgery, 'continues to improve' after back injury
CINCINNATI – Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier “continues to improve” and did not undergo surgery but remained hospitalized overnight while he recovers from a back injury suffered during Monday night's game, according to a statement the team released early Tuesday morning.
“Ryan's injury will not require surgery at this time, and he continues to improve,” General Manager Kevin Colbert said in a prepared statement.
Shazier was evaluated at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center overnight with the hopes of returning to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
Shazier underwent a CT scan and an MRI to evaluate the condition of his back, which was injured during a tackle of Bengals receiver Josh Malone during the first quarter of what ultimately was a 23-20 Steelers victory.
“(Shazier) is our brother, and our thoughts and prayers go out to him,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after the game.
Tomlin, Colbert and president Art Rooney II were among a small contingent of members of the organization who stayed behind in Cincinnati to visit Shazier at the hospital while players were sent home on the team charter.
“Obviously, he's receiving quality medical care,” Tomlin said. “… We're just happy that he's getting the necessary medical attention that he deserves. He's got a lot of brothers (on the team) that are thoughtful of him and wanted to honor him with a performance.”
After falling behind 17-0 and facing a deficit of 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Steelers rallied for their seventh consecutive victory and their sixth in a row against the rival Bengals (including the playoffs).
“It was extremely hard because that's one of our brothers, and any time you see a brother have to get carted off like that it's definitely emotional for you,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “But the next emotion you go through is, ‘Hey, we've gotta win it for him.' There's nothing worse than being hurt and your team losing, too – so we were able to pull it out for him.”
Shazier was taken off the field via a backboard and cart about 4 minutes into the game after he'd been attended by medical personnel for seven minutes while lying on his back on the Paul Brown Stadium turf.
Shazier violently fell back after making what had the appearance of an inoccuous tackle leading with his helmet into the lower back area of Malone. Shazier rolled himself over while lying on the turf and gestured with the fingers on his right hand before putting both hands up to his head. Shazier's lower body, however, remained limp.
Several teammates gathered around him – some dropping to a knee, many coming over to say something to Shazier.
“When it first happened I was just trying to hold his hand and keep him calm because you don't want to go through something like that,” defensive captain Cameron Heyward said. “I think everybody was quiet – (the Bengals') side, our side.”
As a motorized cart took Shazier off the field, Shazier lifted his hands to his head to cover his face. Soon thereafter he was loaded into an ambulance.
“This game can be scary when you see things like that,” teammate Antonio Brown said. “A guy on the ground who can't even move. You can't ever take this game for granted; you've got to be grateful for every time you're out there. We just pray Ryan can make it back.”
Oft-injured early in his career, Shazier has played in 25 consecutive games (including playoffs) and had rarely missed a defensive snap in that time. He did, however injure his ankle late in the Steelers' game last week against Green Bay. Shazier missed two practices this week but started Monday night.
Tyler Matakevich initially replaced Shazier – but Matakevich later suffered an injured left shoulder, so L.J. Fort finished the game at left inside linebacker.
“It's extremely tough to concentrate when you're thinking about your teammate like that, but you've just got to do your best to stay focused and come back to worrying about your brother when the game's over,” Fort said.
“Coach T did a good job of getting everyone focused and back in the game.”