Tomlin may opt to keep Bell off the field
PITTSBURGH — Le’Veon Bell could potentially make some Pittsburgh Steelers history Sunday.
But will he even get the chance?
For all the Steelers have accomplished, a regular-season league rushing champion has been elusive.
Despite two Hall of Fame running backs and four first-team All-Pro backs over the past six decades, the Steelers haven’t had a season rushing champion since “Bullet” Bill Dudley had 604 yards over an 11-game season in 1946.
For much of this season, Bell appeared poised to end that 71-year drought.
But while Bell has spent most of the past two months in the NFL rushing-yardage lead, he enters Week 17 trailing the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley by 14 yards and Kansas City Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt by 1 yard.
With the winless Cleveland Browns at home on the schedule, Bell would appear to be in good position to make a run at the rushing title.
But with the Steelers (12-3) a longshot to earn the AFC’s No. 1 seed — they need to win and have the New England Patriots lose at home to the New York Jets — coach Mike Tomlin has openly mused about resting some of his star players Sunday.
With each of Bell’s previous three seasons having ended with the three-time Pro Bowler injured, that might not be such a bad idea.
“I just want to win the Super Bowl,” Bell said Wednesday. “I can talk about the rushing title all year; I don’t really care about that. I just want to go out there and make sure that I am healthy, get into the playoffs and get into the Super Bowl.”
Bell — by far — leads the NFL in rushing attempts. With 321, he has 42 more than No. 2 Gurley. Counting his 85 receptions, Bell became only the second player since 2009 to have more than 400 combined rushing attempts/receptions.
Bell’s 2014 (hyperextended knee in the regular-season finale), 2015 (torn MCL in Week 8) and 2016 seasons (groin injury in the playoffs) ended with him on the sideline watching the Steelers.
Those experiences might have gained him a perspective that deems it wise to not push things for a regular-season game against a winless team — all for an individual accolade.
“I look at guys like (the NBA’s LeBron James), he never wins scoring titles, but he’s arguably the best player to ever play the game of basketball,” Bell said.