Something that started as a simple hashtag — #Shalieve, Ryan Shazier's synergy of his surname and believe — has become a rally cry for the Steelers.
When their first game since Shazier suffered a spinal injury cried for a rally, the Steelers summoned their source of inspiration.
After a 14-point, first-half lead had slipped to an 11-point, second-half deficit, they did the very definition of synergy: produced a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements.
The Steelers found a last-minute synergy in their offense, special teams and defense to beat the Baltimore Ravens, 39-38, Sunday night at Heinz Field and clinch the AFC North division title for the second consecutive year.
“It's not a joke,” Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell said. “It was 100 percent that. We Shalieve.”
Mitchell laughed last week, figuring he would be the last player to use that phrase. Long before Shazier was injured last Monday night making a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals, Mitchell had teased his teammate about how silly it sounded.
“It was something I kind of joked around with Ryan — like, what are you talking about?” Mitchell said. “But seeing my brother go down when he put it all on the line for us, I think that's what motivated us to come out and play in the second half and especially the fourth quarter, to come back and get this win. We Shalieve it.”
Saluting Shazier: The Steelers saluted Shazier before the game, whether it was James Harrison going shirtless like Shazier in warm-ups or wearing T-shirts with his No. 50 on the front or 15 players wearing custom cleats with his image and synergetic saying.
Bud Dupree and Cam Heyward carried Shazier's No. 50 jersey to the sideline, in a show that he was with the Steelers in spirit on Sunday night, even if he couldn't be there in person.
Afterward, the Steelers shared a video message from Shazier on their team Twitter account: “You guys scared me, but we know how to pull it out, baby.
“Here we go Steelers.”
Shazier's absence felt on field: But it was bittersweet, as Shazier's absence was felt on the field. The fourth-year inside linebacker was an every-down player who called signals for the defense and led the team in tackles.
The Ravens attacked the soft spots, taking advantage of missed tackles and penalties for a 25-point swing. Baltimore held a 38-29 lead with 6:44 remaining.
Then Shazier was shown on the Jumbotron during the playing of the pump-up song, “Renegade,” and the Steelers suddenly came alive.
They scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, including the first career touchdown for fullback Roosevelt Nix, and took the lead on Boswell's 46-yarder with 42 seconds remaining. When they needed a stop, rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt came up with a strip sack of Joe Flacco to end the game.
Getting game ball: Afterward, the Steelers called Shazier on Face Time, giving him the game ball and promising to bring an AFC North championship hat and shirt to his hospital room — even though visiting hours were long over.
“We just told him that we got that crown for him,” Heyward said. “He was happy about it. I know a lot of guys were emotional about it. Sucks that he couldn't be out there, but we just wanted to make him proud and get that ‘W' for him.”
Not just for Shazier.
“We were playing for something much greater for ourselves: We were playing for Ryan. We were playing for Mr. Rooney,” Mitchell said, referring to the late Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, who died in April. “Both of those two needed this win and we were happy to give it to ‘em.”
Finding way to win — again: For a team that has dealt with such loss, the Steelers sure find ways to win. This was their eighth consecutive victory, their fourth in five games on a last-minute field goal by Boswell.
“Championship teams find ways to win,” said Roethlisberger, who visited Shazier after practice Thursday and then passed for a season-high 506 yards against the Ravens. “In the past, you felt like we just couldn't quite get over that hump, for whatever reason.”
Patriots up next: Which brings us to the game circled all season on the schedule: The Patriots visit on Sunday, another hump the Steelers couldn't quite get over.
We know the reason: Tom Brady. He has shredded the Steelers' defense, especially in the AFC championship game last year, and you can only imagine what he will do to a struggling secondary and a middle no longer manned by Shazier.
The Steelers-Patriots winner likely will earn the top seed and home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs.
“This is the game. Now we can talk about it,” Mitchell said. “This is the game everyone has been waiting to see. ... I've been thinking about this game since we lost it last year. I'm very much looking forward to playing them.
“For us to be the champ, we have to beat the champ. I feel we can beat every team in the NFL but the Patriots. That's what it's been. Now we need to knock them off, prove to ourselves that we can do it, and do it.”
To Mitchell, that's not a joke, but the 100-percent truth. What once sounded silly has become the Super Bowl rally cry for a team that just finds ways to win.
The Steelers Shalieve.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.