For the past nine games heading into the AFC Championship Game, the Pittsburgh Steelers rode Le’Veon Bell into their longest winning streak in over a decade, vaulting them all the way into the conference finals for the first time since 2010. But it was an all too familiar sight to see him not on the field for the majority of today’s game.
Through no fault of his own, just to be clear. He has had a rather unfortunate injury history through the past three seasons, and there really wasn’t anything that he could do about it. His workout regimen is virtually second to none, so you can’t fault him for that.
But the bottom line is that, with the AFC Championship game on the line, once again, Bell was a spectator like the rest of us, for the majority of it, anyway. He suffered a left groin injury in the first half and was limited to just six touches for the entire game.
He did gain 20 yards on his six carries and looked to be an effective runner in the early goings of the game. That sixth carry game later on when he came back out to test his groin for one carry, gaining two yards, before gingerly walking back off the field for the final time.
Over the course of the Steelers’ first two postseason games, Bell broke the team’s franchise record for rushing yards in a postseason game—twice over. Franco Harris held the record with 158 yards in the team’s first Super Bowl.
Bell rushed for 167 yards against the Dolphins in the Wildcard Round. Then he rushed for 170 yards against the Chiefs in Kansas City the following week. On 59 carries, he combined for 337 rushing yards and two touchdowns at 5.7 yards per carry.
With his 20 yards today, he did surpass Harris’ franchise record for the most rushing yards in a single postseason, but now we are simply left to ponder what could have been—not just for him, individually, but, perhaps, for the team as a whole.
It might be a hard argument to make considering that the Steelers lost by 16 points—and even that is a bit misleading—but I have to believe that the game would have gone differently, or at least have been a much closer game, had they not lost Bell with 2:36 remaining still in the first quarter.
Now, Bell is entering an offseason in which he is scheduled to hit the open market, and to cash in substantially. Reports have suggested that the team plans on putting the franchise tag on him, but that isn’t cheap either.
There is no denying Bell’s phenomenal talents, although his offseason decision-making has hindered him, forcing him to serve two separate suspensions for a total of five games. But what has hurt the team most has been when he has been injured, simply because they are so much better with him.
Update: Bell told reporters after the game that the groin injury was something that he has been dealing with for a couple of weeks now, and that it flared up against the Patriots. He said he knew by the second play of the game that it would be a problem.