By Will Graves
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH — Le’Veon Bell, by his own admission, was feeling it. And why not? The Pittsburgh Steelers running back was in the final minutes of a historically productive on Sunday in Buffalo when he darted to the sideline and saw Bills cornerback Ronald Darby in his way.
Did the NFL’s most patient and arguably its most productive runner lower his shoulder to send all of his 230ish pounds into the 190ish pound Darby? Did he plant his surgically repaired right knee and spin away as he’d done earlier? Um, no .
“I just wanted that highlight I guess,” Bell said with a smile.
Bell flew instead, vaulting when Darby appeared ready to dive at Bell’s legs. Only Darby stood up halfway through Bell’s jump and the most vital part of Pittsburgh’s resurgent offense landed with a decidedly ungraceful thud after picking up 14 of his franchise record 236 yards rushing in a 27-20 victory .
It wasn’t, Bell admits, the best idea he’s ever had. And while coach Mike Tomlin didn’t feel the need to pull Bell aside and ask Bell to keep himself earth-bound going forward, Tomlin didn’t have to. Lisa Bell took care of it for him, reminding her son there’s nothing wrong with a little discretion.
“She’s telling me to stop jumping,” Bell said with a laugh. “She’ll say that every single time. She’ll tell me to stop jumping, it’s dangerous. I give her a heart attack.”
His mother isn’t the only one Bell is giving anxiety. Opponents are rapidly running out of ways to keep Bell in check for the surging Steelers (8-5), who travel to Cincinnati (5-7-1) on Sunday riding a four-game winning streak that happens to coincide with Pittsburgh ditching the pass-heavy approach of September and putting their season in their relentless running back’s capable hands.
Bell is averaging 205 yards from scrimmage over the last month, thrusting himself into the fringe of the MVP conversation in the process. Heady territory considering Bell missed the first three games while serving a suspension for a second violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
“You can’t treat him like you treat a regular running back,” Cincinnati cornerback Adam Jones said Wednesday.
Probably because Bell isn’t one. He has the size to shoulder a heavy workload, the hands of a wide receiver and a preternatural patience that seems almost counterintuitive for a position predicated on sprinting as fast as you can as far as you can until something gets in your way. Bell out-gained the Bills all by himself (298 yards to 275 for Buffalo). His 67 receptions are second on the team behind Antonio Brown and two behind Arizona’s David Johnson for the most by a running back, and Johnson hasn’t missed a game all season.
“It’s going to be a team effort stopping that guy,” Jones said. “He brings a lot to that offense.”
Except, it seems, when he faces the Bengals. The last two times Bell has faced Cincinnati, he’s ended up leaving with a season-ending injury. In the 2014 regular season finale he hyperextended his left knee after getting hit low by Reggie Nelson. In Week 8 last season he tore the MCL in his right knee while getting tackled on the sideline by volatile linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who appeared to celebrate the hit, a serious no-no in the eyes of Bell’s teammates.
Bell insists there won’t be a third time, stressing he’s “just got to be smart” and not get involved in any war of words with Burfict or anyone else.
“I’m going to go out there and beat them with football plays,” he said. “I’m not going to get out there trash talking. I’m going to get out there and play football.”
Besides, Bell has another avenue available if he wants to get personal. The 24-year-old spends his down time in the music studio inside his suburban Pittsburgh home. Working under the name “Juice,” Bell has already collaborated with Snoop Dogg in a track Bell says he’ll drop if Steelers win the Super Bowl. While he’s offered the occasional diss at media talking heads he’s steered clear of name-checking any specific players.
“I just feel like I’m not about to give them any pub (through) my music,” Bell said. “They can listen to the lyrics and see if I’m talking about them or not.”
Bell likes to time the release of certain tracks on the heels of big performances. His latest “Get Wit It ” came out last week and there’s more on the way. By his math he can put together a handful of songs in a couple of days and give himself a chance to decompress before the cycle begins again. He also keeps it relatively clean, moms being moms and all.
“My mom loves my music,” he said. “She knows I’m smart. She knows I’m not going to go hectic with it.”
No promises on the hurdling though.
NOTES: … The Steelers signed CB Mike Hilton and LB Shaquille Riddick to the practice squad on Tuesday.