PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers’ celebration of their first AFC North Division championship in four years was somewhat muted by the knee injury to the player they voted their MVP last week, halfback Le’Veon Bell.
He was hurt in the third quarter by Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson’s low open-field tackle in the third quarter. Mike Tomlin said it was a hyperextended knee that appears to have no major structural damage. However, Bell’s availability for Saturday night’s playoff game against Baltimore at Heinz Field has to be in serious doubt.
Tomlin and Nelson had an animated discussion on the field after the game. It was assumed to be over Nelson’s low tackle that injured Bell in the third quarter. However, Tomlin said he had no problem with the tackle, calling it legal.
“I guess a teammate told him that I said something regarding him,” Tomlin said. “That’s untrue. Ask him. I have a lot of respect for Reggie Nelson. He’s a good player.”
Nelson declined comment on the issue.
Without the dual threat halfback who rushed for 1,361 yards and caught another 83 passes for 854 yards, the Steelers’ offense changes dramatically. They will plug in Josh Harris, an undrafted rookie who was on their practice squad until Nov. 18 when they signed him after veteran LeGarrette Blount walked out on them during a game at Tennessee.
Harris has nine carries for 16 yards and no receptions. They will team him with another rookie, scatback Dri Archer, a third-round pick who has been a disappointment. He has 10 carries for 40 yards and seven receptions for 23 yards.
More likely, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will have to carry the offense, at least through their first game against Baltimore.
“It’s tough,” Roethlisberger said of the injury to Bell. I’m not sure what the issue is right now or how he’s feeling, or how bad it is. I know if there is a chance that he can be out there he’s going to be because that’s how he is.”
A bright spot for the Steelers has been the improved play from their defense the past two games. They forced three turnovers against the Bengals and have nine sacks in the past two games.
“The defense played huge all day,” Roethlisberger noted. “We didn’t do enough offensively, we didn’t make enough plays and our defense bailed us out. It was fun to watch our defense play at a very high level and get turnovers.”
Cornerbacks Brice McCain and William Gay tied for the team lead with three interceptions after McCain’s two Sunday. Neither cornerback opened the season as a starter. Four of their six interceptions were returned for touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, wide receiver became the first Steeler to lead the NFL. He totaled 1,698 yards receiving on 129 catches, the second-most in NFL history. He also set a Steelers record with his 13th TD catch.
Wide receiver Martavis Bryant’s eighth touchdown catch was second most by a rookie in Steelers history. Louis Lipps caught nine in 1984.
Bell’s 83 receptions are 32 more than the previous Steelers high by a running back. John L. Williams caught 51 in 1994.