The mid-2010s Pittsburgh Steelers had Super Bowl aspirations but could never get there for one reason or another. Usually it was due to injury luck, with star players getting hurt at the worst possible times. This is what sunk the 2014 Steelers as running back Le’Veon Bell was in the midst of his breakout season when he injured his knee in a Week 17 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals and could not play in a playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
On the Steel Here podcast with Kevin Adams and Jersey Jerry, Bell talked about how the injury still haunts him in part because Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant’s miscue enabled the hit that caused it.
“Even thinking about this, it makes me sick, ’cause it’s a play we done repped so many times, but it’s like whatever,” he said Thursday on Steel Here’s latest podcast. “I was in the slot, I was actually the point in the bunch. They were pressing me, so I had to actually get a release. So my release kind of messed up the timing of other routes a little bit. But I ended up still getting open, so to be able to get ball or whatever. Martavis [Bryant], he ended up running the wrong route. He’s supposed to run a go, and he ended up running like a post. So his guy, I think it was Reggie Nelson, so his guy was kind of in the vicinity. So when I catch it, Reggie Nelson is able to like, kind of fall off from Martavis and then come back and then hit me.”
Bell’s injury ended up costing the team a chance at making a deep run in the playoffs. The Steelers had won the AFC North with a dynamic offense but due to the inadequacy of the running backs behind Bell they lost in the Wild Card round of the playoffs to Baltimore. Bell was the workhorse and got almost every carry that season, and the running backs who filled in for him against the Ravens were Josh Harris and Ben Tate.
Tate and Harris were only able to combine for 44 rushing yards that night, and Tate fumbled early and dropped a pass intended for him that turned into an interception, which proved to be a critical moment in the game.
If Bell was active that game against the Ravens, the Steelers might have won. Pittsburgh blew Baltimore out earlier that season behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s six passing touchdowns, which included a receiving touchdown by Bell. Bell’s ability to catch out of the backfield is very well-known, and without him being able to play a big part in the Steelers’ strength went out the window with Harris and Tate not proving to be adequate receiving backs.
Bell said the Nelson hit in the Bengals game stays with him because he blames himself for not surveying the field more after catching the ball.
“This play haunts me to this day ’cause usually I’m like, so aware to what’s around me and all this stuff,” he said. “But I just like low key just trusted everybody just did their job, and I knew I was going to be open…I catch it, and not even thinking Reggie Nelson is there ’cause I’m thinking he got ran off. So I’m catching, I’m like about to catch and run full stride and he hits me like. I don’t know he’s there (and) he hits me straight in my leg.”
Given that the Steelers repped the play so often, Bell clearly thought it would be run to perfection and he would have open grass in front of him. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case as Bryant ran the wrong route, partly which allowed Bengals defensive back Reggie Nelson to lay the crushing blow.
We can play the “what if” game with almost every Steelers team from 2014-2017. They had so many opportunities to win the Super Bowl, but bad luck derailed them. Remembering how good that 2014 offense was, it is hard not to think that team wouldn’t have made a run with how well it was playing down the stretch.
And before Bell’s injury.