FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots knew their game plan going into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game: If they wanted to stop the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense, they’d have to limit Le’Veon Bell.
That mission certainly was accomplished, albeit in unforeseen fashion.
Bell injured his groin on Pittsburgh’s second play from scrimmage. He returned later in the game but wasn’t effective, finishing with just 20 rushing yards on six carries in the Steelers’ 36-17 loss to New England.
Bell played sparingly in the second half, as backup DeAngelo Williams took over for him in the backfield. After the game, the Pro Bowl running back admitted to knowing he couldn’t compete with the injury.
“Obviously, I got banged up, but I still tried to give it a go,” Bell told reporters. “I still tried to play. It got progressively worse. There was a run I had, I think it was a draw play, and ended up getting 2 or 3 yards, but I couldn’t be myself. I had no burst anymore. I felt like I was holding the team back. Obviously DeAngelo (Williams) came in and did a good job, but I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Williams tallied just 34 rushing yards on 14 carries, as the Patriots held the Steelers’ usually potent rushing attack to 54 yards on 20 attempts. Bell, meanwhile, insisted his physical limitation was too much to overcome.
“I knew,” Bell added. “I couldn’t be myself. I had no burst. I had a gap, there was a nice seam, I just felt I couldn’t get there. I had to come out of the game.”
The 24-year-old’s early injury forced the Steelers to completely alter their game plan to a more pass-heavy approach, and they never quite recovered. New England defensive end Trey Flowers pointed out the luxury of not having to deal with such a patient back such as Bell, who led the AFC with 105.7 rushing yards per game this season.
“It can make you more aggressive getting off the block and things like that,” Flowers said. “We dealt with a downhill runner (in Williams), a guy that’s going to see the hole and hit the hole and not really wait for you to make a decision.
“You’re just allowed to play a little more aggressive and more physical through the gap. We just had to do the switch up during the game.”
Thumbnail photo via Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports Images