Le’Veon Bell must have been jealous when two drives into the drubbing the Steelers put on Miami in Sunday’s 30-12 Wild Card win, Ben Roethlisberger was 7-for-7 for 162 yards, Antonio Brown had three catches for 119 yards and the other two Bs had combined for two touchdowns.
Bell had just 19 yards.
He finished the game with a Steelers playoff record 167 yards and two scores, adding seven more yards through the air because when you’re the best player on the field and already breaking records why not?
Franco Harris held that record with 158 yards, set on January 12, 1975 when the Steelers beat the Vikings in Super Bowl IX. Pittsburgh has played in 50 playoff games since and no back — not Jerome Bettis or Barry Foster or Willie Parker or anyone in Pittsburgh history — has racked up that many yards in one playoff game since.
That Bell broke the franchise’s single-game playoff rushing record against Miami is not a surprise, given the way his year has gone and how everyone knew that running the ball was going to be the key to winning this game. But that Bell did it before the end of the third quarter is certainly a surprise.
(That Bell — and Brown and Ben for that matter — were still in the game with 10 minutes to play was predictably disconcerting, but Mike Tomlin does what Mike Tomlin does, and letting up at that point in the game did not seem to be an option.)
Roethlisberger finished with just 197 yards on 13-for-18 passing, meaning that after the first two drives, with the Steelers up a seemingly insurmountable 14-0, Ben threw the ball just 11 more times all game. He was 11 for his first 11, then connected on just two of his final seven throws, including two attempts to Brown with 10 minutes to play and both guys just hoping to get out of the stadium without getting hurt. And yet, a drive later, with Bell and Brown on the bench, Ben tossed an interception while trying to make a play as he was getting hit, landing on his throwing shoulder.
Turnovers aside, and getting hit late in a blowout win notwithstanding, Roethlisberger’s modest numbers were just what the Steelers wanted going into the game. His first scoring toss on Sunday continued a streak of 44-straight home games in which he threw a touchdown, but the Steelers are better this year when Bell (not Ben) is at his best, and when the offensive line is opening up gaping holes to run through.
The Steelers are now 9-1 when rushing for more than 100 yards this season, the only loss coming at Miami. They are 10-0 this year when they out-rush their opponent. Ben may be a Hall of Famer, and Brown may be the best receiver in the game, but Bell is the key to getting back to the Super Bowl.
Bell is the most patient running back in the game, often stopping his momentum entirely while he waited for the Steelers offensive line to open a hole. And open they did, as his 167 yards came on just 29 carries, an average of 5.76 yards per carry.
This was the seventh time this season Bell crossed the century mark in just 13 games, and the sixth time he rushed for 120 or more yards. It’s just the fourth time in his career, however, that Bell rushed for more than 150 yards in a game, and just the fourth time he’s carried the ball more than 28 times in a game.
Bell was spelled by DeAngelo Williams with 5:55 to play, a smart call considering Miami back Jay Ajayi had just gone down with an injury to his shoulder. But as Tomlin finally pulled Bell, Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley thought it would be a good idea to keep throwing the ball. (It wasn’t.)
Roethlisberger’s second pick came too late to give Miami life. A few more yards against the Steelers’ defense didn’t do much to change the outcome of the game. While the ‘Three Bs’ get all the headlines — including the one at the top of this post, to be fair — the defense held Miami in check all game.
Ajayi, who rushed for more than 200 yards the last time these two teams met this season, was held to 33 yards on 16 carries. Matt Moore was 29-for-36 for 289 yards and one score, but he threw an interception and fumbled twice, as Miami turned the ball over three times on three possessions in the second half, followed by a turnover on downs, to seal their fate.
Pittsburgh’s defense finished the game with three turnovers and four sacks, holding Miami to 305 yards, including just 52 on the ground, 15 of which came on the final play of the game, a 4th-and-31 give-up by Miami.
The defense did its job, and the offense — led by Bell’s record setting performance — did the rest.