There are only a few weeks left of the 2017 NFL regular season, and in Week 14, there were some big moments for former Ohio State players, but ultimately the week had been cast under the shadow of the scary injury to Ryan Shazier in last week’s MNF game. The Steelers were sure to show Shazier some love in their primetime win on Sunday, honoring him throughout the evening.
Two more Buckeyes are now sidelined for the remainder of the season, while two former Ohio State running backs are on their way to having career-high seasons. Two other former Buckeyes were added to list of nominees for this year’s Walter Payton Man of the Year honor.
Here’s how former Buckeyes fared in Week 14 of the NFL.
Shazier’s scary injury
Last week’s Monday Night Football game took a scary turn quickly when Steelers’ LB Ryan Shazier went to make a tackle. As he fell to the ground, he immediately grabbed his back and signaled for medical personnel to come help just before he flipped over onto his back without the use of his legs.
In what seemed like a whirlwind over the next few hours, the remainder of the primetime rivalry game was overshadowed by worried coaches, players and fans. In the days following the injury, the team flew Shazier’s family to his bedside in Cincinnati, before the Buckeye was helicoptered back to Pittsburgh. He then underwent spinal stabilization surgery.
Little information has come out in the seven days after the initial injury. Whether or not Shazier has movement or feeling in his legs is unknown, but far and wide the popular concern is less about his future on the football field, and more about the quality of his future as a person.
Before the Steelers’ Week 14 Sunday Night Football matchup, lots of players honored Shazier with graphics on their cleats. He was on the minds of his teammates all game long -- another AFC North rivalry game that was won by one-point. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger exited the field on Sunday with a Shazier jersey draped over his shoulder and the team proceeded to FaceTime their friend from the locker room, where they honored Shazier with the game ball.
Ryan Shazier face-timed his Steelers teammates from the hospital after they beat the Ravens. ❤️— SB Nation (@SBNation) December 11, 2017
( : mrs.shazier50 / Instagram) pic.twitter.com/Qr4Yz9wRwQ
Shazier also posted a video after watching the win with his family in the hospital. He may not be physically on the field with his brothers, but he’s always there in spirit and in mind.
Football is family. It’s the core principle behind the hard-hitting action, and at the end of the day, all that matters is that Ryan Shazier has a smooth recovery, and embraces the amount of support he has all around him.
Walter Payton Man of the Year Nominees
Nominees were announced this week for one of the NFL’s most prestigious honors, the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, given to an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off of the field as well as excellence on the field. Two former Buckeyes were nominated to represent their teams for the annual honor, Cameron Heyward (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Malcolm Jenkins (Philadelphia Eagles).
Less about their contributions on the football and more about their performances in their communities, these are two excellent examples of men who have used their football platform to make positive changes. Both Heyward and Jenkins embody the type of men that should be recognized for their hard work in their communities.
This is one of those awards where even just being nominated really is an honor. 29 of the 32 nominees will receives a $50k donation to a charity of their choice, with the two runners-up receiving a $100k donation and the winner’s charity receiving $250k. Each of those donation amounts (per person) will also be matched and donated in the players’ name to expand Character Playbook across the country.
The group of 32 nominees will be narrowed down to the three finalists that will be announced in Jan. 2018. The winner will be announced during NFL Honors — a two-hour primetime awards special — on Feb. 3, the night before Super Bowl LII at 9 pm ET on NBC.
Thursday Night Football standouts
As the Week 14 matchups got underway on Thursday, several Buckeyes saw playing time, but two really had standout performances, Marshon Lattimore and Michael Thomas.
Just a week after missing time due to an ankle injury, rookie CB Marshon Lattimore made his return known on Thursday against the Falcons. Not only was he often matched up with one of the top wideouts in the league (Julio Jones), but he made the veteran a limited option for Atlanta QB Matt Ryan, and was even able to snag an interception.
Lattimore — well on his way toward winning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors — finished the matchup with three total tackles, one pass breakup and an interception that he took back 33 yards before being taken down.
In just his second-year in the league, the “Can’t guard Mike” moniker just continues to hold true for wideout Michael Thomas. He finished Thursday night’s matchup with 117 receiving yards — tied for a season-high and tied for No. 3 in his career -- and a touchdown, marking his first back-to-back games with a score since Weeks 3 and 4.
Thomas is averaging 11.7 yards per catch on the season, and now has a three-way tie with his career-high of 10 receptions on 14 targets -- last time he saw that much action was in Week 17 in 2016 against the Falcons.
Plays of the Week
The suspension of Ezekiel Elliott was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to running back Rod Smith in terms of his NFL career. The Cowboys will likely be very happy to welcome Elliott back in two weeks, and have the two Buckeyes working in tandem now that Smith has grown some confidence both in himself and with the coaching staff.
On Sunday, Smith finished with six carries for 47 yards and a touchdown, on top of five receptions for 117 yards and another score — an 81-yard trek to seal the game. This marks the first two-TD game of Smith’s career, and his third game in a row with a trip to the endzone. Without question, 2017 will be Smith’s career-best in the NFL.
Rod Smith likely puts the game away for the Cowboys with this big touchdown. Great release from the slot on the slant route. pic.twitter.com/OVOM7IeYaK— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) December 10, 2017
The fourth year rusher for the Niners is well on his way to having a career-season. He finished Week 14 with 14 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown after bouncing to the outside for the score. El Guapo is only one score away from tying his his career-high in a season (6) and 217 yards from matching his season-best production (988 rushing yards).
- A week after serving a team suspension, LB Darron Lee was back in the lineup for the Jets, and claimed five total tackles in Week 14.
- Colts’ DT Johnathan Hankins had a career-high game on Sunday with eight total tackles against the Bills.
- Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (a Wisconsin alum) made good on his bet with one of the team’s ball boys who happens to be a huge Ohio State fan — I was a little surprised the bet wasn’t with TE Nick Vannett, but I digress. With the Buckeyes winning the Big Ten title over the Badgers last weekend, Wilson owned up in a throwback Troy Smith jersey.
Injury Report and Inactives
- Just weeks after being out with a neck stinger, Colts LB John Simon -- who started the season as one of the best defenders on the Indianapolis team -- was placed on IR earlier this week with a shoulder injury.
- With Simon and Shazier out for the remainder of the season, the number of Buckeyes to have their season cut short due to injury is now at 12.
- Other Buckeyes inactive due to injury in Week 14 were Braxton Miller (concussion) and Eli Apple (hip). Rookie center Pat Elflein was also out this week for the Vikings with a shoulder injury.
- QB Cardale Jones was a healthy scratch again for the Los Angeles Chargers.