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Le’Veon Bell spent the day before his first game against his former team reminiscing about his time with the Steelers, the Jets’ Week 16 opponent. Bell, along with praising the Steelers’ fan base, shared a video that included highlights from his time in Pittsburgh with Styx’s classic song “Renegade” — the Steelers’ unofficial theme song — in the background.
— Le’Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) 21 December 2019
Bell’s legacy in Pittsburgh is complicated. He’s widely regarded as the third best running back in franchise history, behind only Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis and ahead of two-time Super Bowl champion Willie Parker and Hall of Famer John Henry Johnson. A three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro during his five active seasons in Pittsburgh, Bell set franchise records for the most receptions by a running back in a single season as well as recording the highest regular season single game (236 yards) and postseason (170 yards) rushing performances.
As part of Pittsburgh’s “Killer B” offense that also included quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown, Bell amassed 2,215 all-purpose yards in 2014, 1,884 total yards in just 12 regular season games in 2016 and 1,944 yards in 2017 despite sitting out the entire preseason over a contract dispute. That dispute ultimately led to his departure from Pittsburgh, as Bell sat out the entire 2018 season before signing with the Jets as an unrestricted free agent. Bell’s decision to hold out last season has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Steelers fans, who partially blame Bell for Pittsburgh’s disastrous 2018 season.
Time heals all wounds, however, as both sides have had a chance to reflect on their time together in Pittsburgh. And while Bell received his desired long-term contract, the Steelers — with far less distractions this season — are 8-6 and on the inside track of the AFC playoff picture despite losing Bell, Brown and Roethlisberger this season.
Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers’ Pro Bowl center who publicly criticized Bell after he failed to return to the team’s facility last season, said that Bell’s former teammates will embrace him before and after Sunday’s game. Pouncey, when asked by 247Sports’ Jim Wexell earlier this week, explained why he and his teammates’ feelings towards Bell have changed.
“We wanted to be all great (last season) and we all wanted the best for each other,” Pouncey said. “So at the end of the day, heck yeah, frustration happened a little bit, but who cares? Get over it. We’re on to so many different things.”
As far as Pouncey and the Steelers’ players are concerned, what happened last season with regard to Bell is water under the bridge.
“We always loved L-Bell, man,” Pouncey said. “He’s always been a great player in our eyes and we always appreciated everything he’s done. Obviously he’s a big part of the defensive game plan to stop him because of how good of a player he is.”
Old feelings aside, the Steelers and Bell have two different agendas on Sunday. While Pittsburgh is trying to stay in front of the Titans for the final spot in the AFC playoffs, Bell and his new team is looking to play the role of spoiler. Bell is also surely hoping to silence his critics who have been vocal about his underwhelming statistics during his first season as a Jet. In 13 games, Bell has amassed 1,080 yards this season, an average of just 83 all-purpose yards per game. In 62 regular-season games with the Steelers, Bell averaged 128 all-purpose yards per game while establishing himself as one of the league’s most versatile players.
“People look at the stats and they just go off of the stats,” Bell said prior to Sunday’s game, via Brian Costello of the New York Post. “It’s OK. It’s not their fault. I think people who understand football and break down the film and really watch it, they know exactly what’s going on and what type of player I am and how I’ve been performing. Stats don’t really show how well I’ve been playing.
“Regardless of stats, I don’t really care what people think. I’ve been playing very good football and I’m continuing to get better. I’m smarter, learning a lot more as I continue to play. I’m healthy and I feel good in Week 16. I’m happy where I am.”