PITTSBURGH — Le’Veon Bell wants a New England mulligan.
The Pittsburgh Steelers running back says his team would have defeated the New England Patriots in the AFC title game if he had stayed healthy. A groin injury forced Bell out of action after six carries for 20 yards as the Patriots won 36-17.
“I think we beat them,” Bell said Friday on ESPN’s First Take when Stephen A. Smith asked him what would have happened if he hadn’t been hurt.
“When I was out there, I wasn’t feeling well at all. The fact I was out there [early in the game], their game plan was so different just because of the fact I was out there. If I go out there healthy and we go out there and do what we do, the way we’ve been doing it the whole season, especially in the playoffs, running the ball, running play-action, leaving [Antonio Brown] one-on-one … I think the outcome would have been different. We’ll get back to that next year.”
The Patriots have won four straight over Pittsburgh, which lost 27-16 to New England in the 2016 regular season. Bell said the Steelers “kind of gave that game away” in Week 7 and noted the team was playing without Ben Roethlisberger, who was injured.
With Bell hurt, the Steelers didn’t score a touchdown in the first three quarters of the AFC title game matchup. The offense also failed to score a touchdown against Kansas City in the divisional round.
Bell could have sparked the offense, but he couldn’t do much to stop Tom Brady, who has 22 touchdowns to zero interceptions in his past seven games against Pittsburgh.
Earlier this week, the Steelers placed the franchise tag on Bell, who told First Take he would play under the $12.12 million tag if necessary. The Steelers are on record about wanting Bell — who averaged a franchise record 157 total yards per game last year — to retire in Pittsburgh. Bell said the 2017 Steelers have the players to contend for a Super Bowl.
“Obviously we want to come to an agreement,” Bell said. “If it doesn’t … I’m not trying to sit out a year. I’m going to go out there and play football and continue to do what I do. The sky’s the limit for our team.”