CINCINNATI _ Ryan Shazier was in the hospital with a back injury, his backup at inside linebacker, Tyler Matakevich, was in the locker room with a shoulder injury, and the Steelers were trailing the Bengals, 20-10, late in the third quarter on Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
The outlook was ominous, but the Steelers knew how to respond.
"This is very similar to the army," offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva observed after the Steelers had rallied for a last-play, 23-20 victory. "What are you going to do? You're not going to go out and play? What decision are you going to make on the next snap? You're going to try to do your best.
"It's the same thing in the military when something goes wrong. The only option that you have is to try to do your best. Giving up is not an option, I don't think, especially on this team."
The Steelers' best was just good enough in their rematch with the Bengals amid circumstances that were trying but also familiar.
"We have a no-blink group," head coach Mike Tomlin maintained. "We've been under duress in that stadium versus that team before. Maybe that past experience helps us in some way, but largely it's the men.
"Belief in each other, belief in our approach and making the necessary plays to make that belief reality."
Shazier was injured on the Bengals' third offensive snap.
Initially, the Steelers prayed for him.
Then they played for him.
"When you see a guy like that, who put all his heart and how much hard work he puts in and has an unfortunate injury like that, you want to get it done for him," running back Le'Veon Bell said. "I'm sure he probably was somewhere getting updates about the game, worried about us. At the same time we were worried about him.
"He's in our prayers."
FROM QUESTIONABLE TO QUINTESSENTIAL:** Wide receiver Antonio Brown was questionable prior to kickoff due to a toe injury he said was sustained in the first quarter on Nov. 26 against Green Bay.
Brown played despite not having practiced on Friday or Saturday and wound up catching eight passes for 101 yards, including the game-tying, 6-yard touchdown with 3:55 left in the fourth quarter. Bengals safety George Iloka was penalized for unnecessary roughness on the touchdown.
"The guy just hit me in the head as hard as he could," Brown said.
Brown said he showed up to Paul Brown Stadium ready to play but not as prepared to play as he would have otherwise preferred.
"I'm a guy who loves to be out there getting those practice reps and getting in tune with the game, putting in that deposit and (then) make a big withdrawal for the weekend," Brown said. "It was hard for me. I would have loved to have been out there at practice and be in tune with the game and make some of the plays I left out there.
"But we got the win and I'm all right."
Brown didn't make every catch (he was targeted 15 times), but he saved his best grab for last.
"Big-time squeeze down there in that end zone, absorbing that hit, but quintessential Antonio," Tomlin said.
AFC NORTH BALL: Brown called the ferocity of what took place "typical" for Steelers-Bengals.
"A little trash talk, it's just all part of the game," he said. "We go back and forth all the time with the Bengals. At the same time, I respect those guys for their talents and the way they play. They respect me the way I play, there's just going to be a lot of trash talk in between.
"You had plays here and there but I don't think it was it out of control. It's been worse, there have been worse games."
Added center Maurkice Pouncey: "It's always physical, man, you know AFC North football. Usually the hits are like that but today a couple guys got knocked out. I don't think it was anything intentional. It was just people playing hard, a divisional game."
THEY SAID IT:** "We needed a spark. (Rookie cornerback Cam Sutton) is a guy that's worked extremely hard and deserving of an opportunity. It wasn't like there were a lot of positive things going on. It's really no slight against (cornerback) Coty (Sensabaugh), we were just looking for a spark or a combination. Coty served us well in relief of Joe (Haden). We gave 34 an opportunity, he made some plays. We'll see what next week holds for us. We appreciate the efforts of all the men." _ Tomlin on replacing Sensabaugh with Sutton, who made his NFL debut, in the third quarter.
"It sort of reminded me of the playoff game we had here (in the 2015 postseason). We're the best reality TV show out there. Forget the Kardashians, we got 'em beat. These guys get it done. It doesn't matter how it gets done, just gotta get it done somehow." _ Defensive end Cam Heyward.