Le’Veon Bell has reached another high in a career that started so well then fell completely off the rails.
The Chiefs running back has made it to the Super Bowl for the first time, not as the dominant ground-air threat he once was and at 28-years-old should still be, but in a dramatically reduced role.
Bell only had double-digits in carries three times in what he says for him was an “intriguing” season.
In the Chiefs 22-17 divisional-round win over the Browns, he touched the ball just twice — a couple of carries totalling six yards.
When everybody has been healthy, Bell has generally been the second option to rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, with Darrel Williams the team’s third-down back.
And he says that’s fine with him.
“I’ve always been a guy who just wants to win football games,” Bell stated Tuesday. “I’ve always said whether I get one carry or 55 carries, I always kind of want to make sure we win the football game.
“I came to this team a little late and they had some things going on, I had to kind of hop on board. It’s been fun, kind of a different season, but as long as we’re winning, I’m happy.”
If that’s true now, it wasn’t always the case. Bell was a rock star in Pittsburgh, eclipsing 1,200 yards rushing and 1,800 yards from scrimmage three times from 2013-17, while helping the Steelers to a 53-27 record.
But he sat out the entire 2018 season in a contract dispute, so maybe winning wasn’t always first and foremost on his priority list.
It took less than two seasons in New York to see how the other half lives — and that it wasn’t for him.
Bell prompted his own release from the winless Jets on Oct. 13, and two days later he was signing with the Chiefs.
To borrow an old cliche, it was a move from the outhouse to the penthouse.
“In New York, I was kind of fighting an uphill battle with everything that was going on over there,” he said. “Didn’t work out for whatever reason. From the first day I came over here I loved it right away. I fit in with these guys pretty good. Everyone around embraced me, the coaches did too. I’m just happy where I’m at and with the season went.
“We’ve just got to cap it off with a Super bowl win.”
Bell’s feeling of acceptance at Arrowhead Stadium was not imagined.
“I really like him,” coach Andy Reid said. “I like him as a kid, and I like him as a player. He brings that veteran experience, he’s been the best in the business at what he’s done. He’s handled this role well. He loves to play.
He got a little nicked up, he’s working through that, he gave us a few good game sin there where we really needed him. I go back to the New Orleans game and how he kind of putting the icing on the cake with his run.
“There’s been some real good production from him at important times during our season.”
Super Bowl Sunday will serve as a reunion for Bell and Antonio Brown, who were a dominant duo with the Steelers. In 2014, Bell had 2,215 yards from scrimmage and 1,361 rushing yards — second in the league to Dallas’ DeMarco Murray in both categories — while Brown led all receivers in yards (1,698) and receptions (129).
Steelers won their division with an 11-5 record, but lost the wild-card game 30-17 to the Ravens when Bell couldn’t play because of a knee injury, and they had no running game at all.
“It’s crazy to think as long we’ve been playing together, we’ve never made it to this point,” said Bell, who added he doesn’t stay in contact with Brown. “The fact we’re playing each other is going to be fun.”
You might think that Bell, who says he has been dreaming of playing in the Super Bowl since he was 4½ years old, might regret sitting out the 2018 season. If so you’d be wrong.
“Oh no. No. That never crossed my mind,” he said. “Me sitting out, I’ve just got to look at it like it’ll kind of help me on the back end of my career. When I came back last year, I felt like I was a rookie all over again. I was excited to get back on the field and really just get my gatherings back.
“It kind of reset my body. I feel like it’s going to help me to elongate my career.”
It will be interesting to see what kind of impact Bell has Sunday and where that elongated career has in store for him next. With his one-year deal as a Chief expiring, the two could very well go hand-in-hand.
OUT OF THE HUDDLE
Sammy Watkins gave a vaguely positive injury update when he said he’s “optimistic” about playing Sunday after missing both playoff games with a calf injury. “Still working with the training staff and going over everything so I can have a chance and possibly go out there and feel 100%, or 95% or 85%, whatever I get at by Sunday,” said the Chiefs veteran receiver, who set up the go-ahead touchdown in last year’s Super Bowl with a 38-yard catch in the final four minutes. “Feeling pretty good, very optimistic. Been having good practices.” Watkins missed six games due to injuries while having the worst season of his career, numbers-wise. With an expiring contract, he sounds like he’d gladly accept a pay cut to return. “Would I love a third ring? For sure,” he said.
While Reid will celebrate a win Sunday with a double cheeseburger, Bucs coach Bruce Arians has a different plan: “We will find an adult beverage somewhere and have a great time,” the 68-year-old said … How many Zoom calls has Patrick Mahomes been on this year? “More than I’ll probably ever have in my lifetime after this,” he said. “It seems I’m on a Zoom, or a Webex or whatever type of call every single day. If not with y’all, with us in our virtual meetings.” … Eric Bieniemy: “In order to appreciate winning, you have to despise losing. You have to despise that feeling, what it feels like, in the agony of defeat. Throughout the course of the game, you may be given an opportunity to be great three times. The question is, have you mentally and physically prepared yourself for those defining moments.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft has found another team to take to the Super Bowl — a team of New England healthcare workers will be using the 76 tickets he procured for the Chiefs-Bucs showdown. Kraft told them it was a thank you “for putting your lives on the line.” … Sacked in Seattle, former Seahawks OC Brian Schottenheimer is the Jaguars’ new passing game coordinator, according to the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
Reports that the 49ers tried to trade for Matthew Stafford a year after they considered pursuing Tom Brady — like the clamouring that still exists on social media about the team needing a new quarterback — are incredulous to George Kittle. He believes they are in fine and capable hands with Jimmy Garoppolo, who missed 10 games in 2020 because of injuries after taking the team to the Super Bowl last February. “The Niners aren’t in the playoffs this year, so let’s look at the biggest headlines, and what else is there to talk about except our handsome quarterback, Jimmy G?,” Kittle, the team’s outstanding tight end, said Tuesday on the NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. “That’s all everybody wants to talk about for some reason, but it is what it is. Jimmy’s a helluva quarterback, took us to the Super Bowl last year. Unfortunately, some injuries prohibited us this year and I know prohibited us this year and I know prohibited him from performing at his best. I still believe in Jimmy G. I think he’s an incredible quarterback. I think he can lead us to another Super Bowl. I think we can win the Super Bowl with him. I can’t even talk enough about his leadership skills on and off the field. I feel like I’ve answered the question about 200 times now since I last talked to you guys after the Super Bowl, but I’ll keep dying on the sword because I think Jimmy G’s a fantastic quarterback. He’s got an amazing release, got a great arm and a great touch. So I’m happy to have Jimmy G as my quarterback and I know that we can win with him.”
THE END SWEEP
Sounds like it’s a slam-dunk that Aaron Rodgers will be named the MVP this season despite the fact Derrick Henry became just the eighth RB in league history to eclipse the 2,000-rushing yards mark. In an interview on the Titans website, Henry expressed his belief that the position he plays deserves more respect. He says both Alabama’s Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne deserve to be first-round picks in the 2021 draft. “The things (Harris) did this year, it was just unbelievable,” Henry said in pumping the tires of the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder from his alma mater, a younger version of himself. “He’s great at running the ball, great at catching the ball. He is the full package. It’s what you want from a guy coming in and being a day one starter at the running back position.” Mock drafts project both players to be selected mid-to-late first round, but of course that doesn’t mean it’s written in stone. The 2020 had just one running back picked in the first round (Edwards-Helaire, 32nd overall by the Chiefs) while only one running back (Josh Jacobs, 24th overall, Raiders) was taken in the first round of the 2019 draft. Three running backs went in the first round of 2018: Saquon Barkley second overall to the Giants, Rashaad Penny 27th overall to the Seahawks and Sony Michel 31st overall Patriots. Bucs running back Leonard Fournette (fourth overall, Jags) was one of two first rounders in 2017. (The other was Christian McCaffrey, eighth overall, Panthers). “I know that they try to devalue us backs and say you can get a running back in the second round,” Henry said. “But Najee and Etienne deserve to go in the first round. They have earned it. You have seen it week in and week out, what they did this year, they type of players they are. It shows on film.”
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