Ryan Shazier lifts Steelers' spirits in return to Cincinnati

CINCINNATI -- The Pittsburgh Steelers left Paul Brown Stadium feeling emboldened by Ryan Shazier, who suffered a spinal injury in this same spot nearly a year ago.

Shazier received cheers as he walked onto the field pregame, led the linebackers' huddle before the first snap and was part of a passionate locker room celebration after a 28-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

"Just a lot of love [shared]," tight end Vance McDonald said of the postgame scene.

Shazier was rushed to a University of Cincinnati hospital on Dec. 4 after a tackling attempt on Bengals receiver Josh Malone left him struggling to move. Shazier underwent spinal stabilization surgery a few days after.

On Saturday, Shazier returned to the hospital and gave out No. 50 #shalieve T-shirts.

After the game, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton sought out Shazier for a handshake. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who walked off the field with Shazier, said he was involved in a players' postgame prayer expressing thanks that Shazier is progressing well in his rehab and walking on his own accord.

Guard David DeCastro said he doesn't know if he'd have the strength to be with the team every day if he were in Shazier's position, unable to play. But Shazier is around most days and helps run a linebackers meeting every Wednesday through Friday.

"Obviously, he's not where he wants to be and playing football again, but just the fact he's able to walk and to see him walk off the field and to walk with him, it was special," Roethlisberger said. "This is a place we'll always remember. Not just for football but for life."

Coach Mike Tomlin relayed a similar message to the team, saying it's good "to be back in this building with Ryan Shazier with us."

The Steelers needed inspiration to pull off a last-second win. Down 21-20 with 10 seconds left, Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown connected on a 31-yard score up the middle.

"We love and respect Ryan, and we've learned a lot from his struggles since the last time we've been here," Tomlin said. "He's inspired us, and hopefully he's inspired many outside of us."