PITTSBURGH — A groin injury in last season’s AFC Championship Game crushed Le’Veon Bell’s title dreams. Now the Pittsburgh Steelers running back gets a rematch with the team that won that day, the New England Patriots.
“I just felt like I missed a opportunity to get to a Super Bowl,” Bell said Wednesday. “When this year came around, we saw the schedules and everything, I knew had another opportunity if I was being healthy and playing the Pats again. It’s good. The opportunity is here.”
Bell leads the league in rushing (1,105 yards) entering Sunday’s game at Heinz Field. He said he got hurt on the second offensive play of the AFC title game, which the Steelers lost 36-17. Bell rushed for 20 yards on six carries but didn’t look right after the first possession.
Bell was on a tear before that game, setting single-game franchise rushing records for the regular season and playoffs and averaging 157 yards per game in the regular season.
This week’s game, which will likely decide home-field advantage in the AFC playoff picture, can make up for lost time.
“It was a terrible feeling having to watch my guys go to work,” Bell said. “(Now) when I go out of the game for a possession or two when they are resting me, I’m always like that…I don’t like my guys going to work without me…Watching my guys in the playoffs and not being able to go, it sucked for me.”
Now, the Steelers face the Patriots with a fully stocked roster. Pittsburgh is the league’s only team with a 3,000-yard passer (Ben Roethlisberger, 3,744), 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver (Antonio Brown, 1,509).
But the Patriots have Tom Brady, who has 22 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last seven games against Pittsburgh.
“This is the game everyone has been waiting to see,” Bell said. “It’s the No. 1 and 2 teams in the AFC going at it head to head. This is obviously a game that a lot of people, even before the season started, probably circled on their calendars. I’ll definitely embrace the game. The Patriots are the team that’s always in the hunt for the Super Bowl…I think it will be more so of whoever executes better. They have players who can make plays. We have players who can make plays. It depends on who makes the plays and when they make them.
“I want to make sure I’m the guy always making a play when the opportunity presents itself.”