PITTSBURGH (AP) – Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor have been playing alongside each other for a dozen years, a union even longer than Polamalu’s marriage.
Fate dealt the cornerstones of the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary an unwanted separation.
Taylor underwent surgery Monday to repair the right forearm he broke in the third quarter of Sunday night’s 37-19 win over Carolina, the most serious of a handful of injuries that tempered some of the joy of a dominant performance.
“I’m deeply affected by it,” Polamalu said. “But he’s tough and I know he’ll be back.”
Just not anytime soon.
The Steelers (2-1) also lost linebackers Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones in the third quarter. Shazier sprained the MCL in his right knee when linebacker Lawrence Timmons accidentally collided with the rookie at the end of a play. Jones went to the locker room with a busted wrist moments after causing a fumble by Carolina quarterback Cam Newton that swung the momentum permanently in Pittsburgh’s favor.
Shazier spent Monday walking around with his right leg in a brace, while Jones had his wrist evaluated. Neither injury is expected to be season ending. Taylor’s situation is far more precarious, a stunning development for a player who has missed just seven games since 2003.
“It’s a shock because Ike never gets hurt,” cornerback Cortez Allen said. “He’s the most durable guy I know.”
One of grittiest too. While some of Taylor’s teammates dropped to a knee upon seeing his arm dangling after a freak collision with Timmons while the two tried to complete a tackle, Taylor turned to the sideline and told nickelback William Gay to get ready.
“He gave us that look when he left the field, like, ‘You all better win this game, because I broke my arm for you,'” Gay said.
The substitutes more than held their own. The Steelers led 16-3 when Taylor disappeared into the tunnel. An hour later they were walking off the field with their most impressive road win in four years.
Gay moved outside to take over for Taylor. Sean Spence completed his remarkable recovery from a gruesome knee injury two years ago to fill in capably for Shazier, while Arthur Moats was a disruptive force with Jones out.
“As a competitor, you want to go in there when the game is heated like that and it’s still a meaningful game,” said Moats, signed in the offseason after spending the first four years of his career in Buffalo. “Going in there at blowout time, it’s cool, but it’s great when you’re actually in there when you’re scratching and clawing for every inch.”
Not that the game stayed close for long. After going eight quarters without reaching the end zone, the Steelers crossed the goal line four times over the final 26 minutes. Jones’ forced fumble was the first turnover created by Pittsburgh this season. The special teams added the second when Shamarko Thomas blew up Carolina punt returner Corey Brown early in the fourth quarter and Robert Golden fell on the loose ball for a score that made it 30-13.
That was more than enough on a night running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount each topped 100 yards rushing – the first time two Steelers have done it in the same game since 1986. The Steelers hardly looked like the team that was overwhelmed in a loss to Baltimore in Week 2.
The reality of the injuries, however, set in less than 24 hours later. Instead of cutting up his teammates in a meeting room, Taylor began the day in the hospital. Shazier spent the afternoon getting treatment and a pep talk from Spence, whose career nearly ended in the final game of the 2012 preseason when he tore two ligaments and suffered nerve damage in his left knee when it gruesomely buckled.
Shazier will return. So will Jones. Taylor’s outlook is cloudier. The 34-year-old took a significant pay cut to come back for a 12th season. He’d already ceded his role as the team’s shutdown corner to Allen this fall. Replacing Taylor’s onfield leadership, however, is another matter.
“It’s a big void that has to be filled,” Allen said.
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