They had watched their friend and teammate as he had to be helped from the field, unable to put any weight on his right leg. And they had seen running back Le'Veon Bell carted off to the locker room moments later.
Eventually, the Steelers had no choice but to come to grips with the significance of the blow after losing Bell to another knee injury in Sunday afternoon's 16-10 loss to the Bengals.
"It's very difficult because he's not just a teammate, he's family," running back DeAngelo Williams said. "It was tough to see him lying on the ground there hurting. My heart's out to him.
"It's always an emotional blow when you lose any guy, let alone a guy and a star like Le'veon Bell."
Added wide receiver Antonio Brown: "We know what he brings to our team as an individual but DeAngelo Williams is capable. We have to continue to be positive and pray for Le'Veon to come back. Anytime a guy goes down you always take a moment to pray for him."
BACK OF THE FUTURE:** Williams was the starter at running back during Bell's season-opening, two-game suspension.
And Williams is ready to fill Bell's shoes again if necessary.
"We've been here before," Williams said. "I know why they brought me here and I'm going to play my role. My main goal and my main focus is when No. 26 is not in there and I'm in there it doesn't take any pressure off the defense."
Williams had nine carries for 71 yards against the Bengals including a 55-yard burst, the Steelers' longest run of the season.
Through eight games he has a 4.9 average per carry, as does Bell, and three rushing touchdowns, as does Bell.
"It can't be an excuse of why we can't do this or why we can't do that," guard Ram Foster said regarding a potential extended absence for Bell.
NOBODY'S BURFICT: Bell was injured on a hard tackle by linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
It was the reaction that bothered Foster.
"I was more (ticked) than anything," Foster said. "They celebrated, that guy running across the field having a good time because he took a player out. He's that type of guy. That type of guy will get his sooner or later, wait and see, I guess. He's that type of guy, period. If you're on the field with him, you know what I mean. He'll play it off, act dumb about it but you don't run across the field, hyped, celebrating (and) jumping up and down when a guy goes down like that."
ROETHLISBERGER'S RETURN:** Tomlin assessed the return of his franchise quarterback solely on the final result.
"When you're at the point Ben is in his career winning and losing is all that matters," Tomlin said. "He sees that very clearly, as do I."
Roethlisberger's first start since suffering a sprained MCL/bone bruise in his left knee on Sept. 27 at St. Louis ended with one touchdown pass, three interceptions and a passer rating of 57.8.
Roethlisberger hadn't thrown three interceptions in a game since Sept. 11, 2011 at Baltimore (three in a 35-7 loss).
He hadn't had a passer rating in the 50s since registering a 58.6 on Dec. 23, 2012 against Cincinnati (a 13-10 loss).
"Health-wise, OK," Roethlisberger reported as to how he was feeling. "I'm obviously disappointed in the way I played. I let this team down and I let the fans down. This one is on me and I'm taking the blame and letting everyone know that I have to play better.
"There was never a time or a play where I said 'don't try to do this,' because of my knee or a brace. I will never make excuses. I just played poorly."
NOT GOOD ENOUGH: The Steelers' defense kept Cincinnati under 300 total net yards (296), limited the Bengals to 27 percent on third downs (4-for-15) and held the NFL's No. 1 red zone team to 1-for-3 scoring touchdowns inside the 20-yard line.
But to defensive end Cam Heyward it wasn't enough.
"We needed one more stop," Heyward said. "We gotta grow from this. If we talk about being the team we want to be you gotta step up in critical situations. We gotta learn from this.
"We just gotta get better. We gotta win in all phases and we have to do a better job. When we need a play we have to have it, and that goes for everybody. It's not anybody in particular but everybody has to make a play. We all have to be responsible."
HE SAID IT: "We just gotta keep fighting. They're the No. 1 team right now in the AFC North, they're undefeated. We're going to have to just keep pushing. It's the halfway point of the season. I don't see why we can't go undefeated the rest of the way out." - cornerback Antwon Blake on the 4-4 Steelers continuing to chase the 7-0 Bengals.