Ryan Shazier was taken to the hospital, but the team hopes he returns to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. (Frank Victores/AP)

“Monday Night Football” games aren’t just a draw for sports fans; they make for popular viewing among NFL players as well. Thus, as a national audience watched Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier get carted off the field after making a tackle during an “MNF” game against the Bengals, players reacted with alarm at the scary scene.

While diving forward to hit Cincinnati’s Josh Malone on a short pass over the middle in the first quarter, Shazier appeared to hit his head against the wide receiver’s thigh, compressing his neck. Shazier immediately grabbed at his back, then rolled over as medical staff hurried over to help.

Shazier was placed on a stretcher before being taken off the field at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium. NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala reported that another Steelers linebacker, Vince Williams, was “clearly distraught” at the scene.

Shazier was transported by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he received a CT scan and an MRI exam. Following the game, a 23-20 Steelers win, Kinkhabwala reported that the Steelers were told Shazier had suffered “a spinal contusion” and that they wouldn’t know more until the swelling was reduced.

“Ryan’s injury will not require surgery at this time, and he continues to improve,” the Steelers said in a statement late Monday night. “He will stay overnight to continue evaluations with the hopes of returning to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.”

In the immediate aftermath of Shazier’s injury, current and former NFL players used social media to express concern and offer support for him.

“The good news is he could move his hands and arms,” David Chao, a physician who offers injury analysis for the San Diego Union-Tribune, wrote Monday. “However, that does not rule out spinal issue or a spinal cord issue lower down. Another good sign is no cervical collar was used. Hopefully, the apparent loss of feeling and function is temporary.

“My concern is with how Shazier went limp, including [temporarily] his arm. It is extremely worrisome how his legs, especially the left leg, flopped as he turned over. He did not sit up to help extricate his left arm from being trapped behind his back.”

A first-round pick by the Steelers in 2014 out of Ohio State, Shazier was a Pro Bowl selection after the 2016 season and is among Pittsburgh’s best players. Tyler Matakevich, a 2016 seventh-round pick from Temple, came in for Shazier in Monday’s game.

In the fourth quarter of the game, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster delivered a hard hit to Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who remained down on the field and was eventually taken off on a cart. Burfict signaled to the crowd that he was okay, while Smith-Schuster was assessed an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for taunting the Cincinnati player by standing over him.

Smith-Schuster apologized for the hit after the game and said he didn’t realize he was targeting Burfict.

“I didn’t know it was Burfict at first. All I saw was the first Bengal was going to tackle . . . and my instinct is I gotta block for my teammate,” Smith-Schuster said. “And me just playing ball, I hit him. After I seen the replay I think I should’ve held back a little bit more from blocking him. Also, I believe that that’s not me. I should’ve never stood over him. I apologize for that and with that being said, I hope he gets better.”

While ESPN’s announcing team decried Smith-Schuster’s actions, particularly in light of Shazier’s injury, the reaction was more mixed online because of Burfict’s history with the Steelers. Most notoriously, the linebacker had knocked out Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown with what many thought was an especially egregious hit in the 2016 playoffs, earning a three-game suspension.

Brown said in the locker room afterward that he would pay whatever fine is coming Smith-Schuster’s way.

“I ain’t talking about nobody. Karma is karma. Karma is in life. You do the wrong things, you get the wrong things out of it,” Brown told reporters.

Burfict added to the tension going into Monday’s game with comments published earlier in the day by ESPN, in which he reiterated his previously stated suspicions that Brown had “faked” the severity of his injury. The game was a violent, penalty-marred affair in general, and after Smith-Schuster’s hit on Burfict, Bengals safety George Iloka was penalized for hitting Brown in the head after the latter caught a touchdown pass.

“AFC North football,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said simply, upon asked by ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the game about its roughness. He praised Shazier as a team leader and said he was anxious for more news about the linebacker.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac quoted a Steelers source as saying that Shazier’s condition was “better than what it could have been.”

“This is a tough game, a tough business. 5-0 is our brother,” Steeelers Coach Mike Tomlin said after the game, referring to Shazier’s jersey number. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to him. … He’s receiving good medical care.”

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