Le'Veon Bell

AFC: Bell, Steelers run over Ravens 26-9 in first-place duel

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AFC: Bell, Steelers run over Ravens 26-9 in first-place duel

BALTIMORE - The Pittsburgh Steelers finally got their offense running. The wait continues for the Baltimore Ravens.

Le'Veon Bell rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns, and the Steelers beat the Ravens 26-9 on Sunday in a duel for first place in the AFC North.

Though held to a touchdown over the final 30 minutes, Pittsburgh (3-1) mounted enough of an attack before halftime to earn its first win in Baltimore since 2012.

Coming into the game, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked to identify the problem with a Pittsburgh offense that had produced only six touchdowns in 12 quarters.

"The quarterback needs to play better," he said.

Roethlisberger went 18 for 30 for 216 yards and a touchdown. Bell did more than his share, carrying the ball 35 times to help the Steelers amass 381 yards in offense.

The Ravens (2-2), meanwhile, looked every bit like the 32nd-ranked offense in the NFL. Baltimore trailed 19-0 at halftime, generated only 154 yards through three quarters and stumbled through a second straight game with only one touchdown.

Joe Flacco completed 31 of 49 passes for 235 yards, was sacked four times and intercepted twice.

Baltimore closed to 19-3 in the third quarter after an interception by Ravens safety Eric Weddle. The turnover occurred only after a challenge by Baltimore coach John Harbaugh overturned the original ruling of a catch and a tackle.

After Pittsburgh's Chris Boswell missed a 44-yard field goal, Alex Collins promptly ran for 50 yards to set up a 16-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Mike Wallace. The Ravens went for 2, made it, then lost the points after a replay showed Terrance West's elbow hit the ground before the ball made it to the end zone.

In the fourth quarter, on a fourth-and-12 from the Pittsburgh 47, Flacco was picked off by Mike Hilton with 5 1/2 minutes left, launching a rapid exit by many of the fans.

That led to Bell's second 1-yard touchdown run with 2:26 to go.

The Steelers' first drive of the game covered 84 yards, lasted nearly 10 1/2 minutes and ended with a 30-yard field goal.

Boswell made it 6-0 with a 49-yarder midway through the second quarter after Roethlisberger connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster for 19 yards on a third-down play.

A fumble by Collins set up a touchdown run by Bell, and Roethlisberger threw an 11-yard TD pass to Smith-Schuster for a 19-point cushion.

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Le'Veon Bell: If I wasn't hurt, Steelers would've beat Patriots in AFC title game

Le'Veon Bell: If I wasn't hurt, Steelers would've beat Patriots in AFC title game

In this week's edition of Patriots opponents' revisionist history/wishful thinking, we have Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell.

Bell told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith on "First Take" on Friday that if he had been healthy against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, it would have been a Steelers-Falcons Super Bowl. 

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New England, of course, won its fifth Super Bowl title with a record 25-point comeback against Atlanta, with help from Lady Gaga, if you believe Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu's theory from last week. 

Bell left the Steelers' 36-17 AFC title game loss to the Pats with a groin injury after gaining just 20 yards on six carries.

"I think we beat them," Bell said, when asked what the outcome would've been if he hadn't been hurt. 

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"When I was out there, I wasn't feeling well at all," Bell said. "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."

In the Patriots' Week 7 visit to Pittsburgh they held Bell to 81 yards rushing (though he had 10 catches for 68 yards receiving) in a 27-16 New England victory. The Steelers were without starting QB Ben Roethlisberger for that game. 

The Patriots will visit Heinz Field again in the 2017 regular season. 

Curran: Will NFL punish 'transparent' Steelers for hiding Le'Veon Bell injury?

Curran: Will NFL punish 'transparent' Steelers for hiding Le'Veon Bell injury?

Back in October, Mike Tomlin was asked why the Steelers ruled quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out of a game with the Patriots so early in the week.

“We’re a transparent group,” said Tomlin. “We don’t hide. We are who we are."

The statement seemed a little sanctimonious and could easily be construed as a thinly-veiled shot at the Patriots, who share what they have to when they have to and little more.

Now the statement is hypocritical to boot. The groin injury that forced Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell from the AFC Championship Game on Sunday was a long-standing one that the Steelers may have been hiding on their injury reports.

Teams are on the hook to list any significant or noteworthy injuries to players on their practice participation and injury reports.

Tomlin has framed Bell’s groin injury as being insignificant.

As Mike Florio from Pro Football Talk points out:

Here’s the problem with that argument. Bell had been missing practice time. Each of the three Wednesdays before the team’s playoff games, Bell didn’t practice. Last Thursday, he missed practice for ‘personal reasons.’

"The circumstances put the league office in a tough spot. If Bell missed no practice time, the folks at 345 Park Avenue could say, ‘The injury wasn’t significant, and Bell participated in all practices and games.’ Since Bell missed four of nine practices over a three-week period with the ‘not injury related’ designation at a time when Bell had a groin injury, the league will have a hard time burying its head in the sand on this one.”

Additionally, while the injury may not have been significant, the best back in the league having a tender groin is noteworthy and warranted disclosure. There was a lot of clucking a few years back when the Patriots listed Tom Brady on their injury report every week with a shoulder situation. Significant? He didn’t miss many games with it. Noteworthy? Absolutely.

In a statement released after the Ravens were fined for injury-report chicanery, the league maintained: The Injury Report Policy states that, “All players with significant or noteworthy injuries must be listed on the report, even if the player takes all the reps in practice, and even if the team is certain that he will play in the upcoming game. This is especially true of key players and those players whose injuries have been covered extensively by the media.”

With the NFL possibly opening up shop in Las Vegas in the next couple of years, it would behoove them to make sure every franchise is as “transparent” as Tomlin proclaimed the Steelers were back in October.

The reason the NFL injury report exists is, in large part, so that gamblers can’t profit from insider info. No NFL franchise is more attuned to making sure gambling interests aren’t served than the Steelers. In 2008, after the NFL looked the other way for decades while the Rooney family maintained control of the Steelers and several racetracks, two Rooney brothers divested themselves of Steelers ownership so they could maintain the family’s gambling interests.

So the appearance of fudging Bell’s injury isn’t just a bad look for the coach, it’s an awful look for the Steelers. And, if the NFL does nothing after having docked the Seattle Seahawks a second-round pick for an injury report infraction, it will give rise to the perception the league office is giving Pittsburgh preferential treatment. Which would be the second time this season that could be alleged, given the way the league swept away accusations from Giants personnel that the Steelers were using deflated footballs in a game earlier this season.

It’s a tangled web they weave, ain’t it?