In their biggest game of the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to play most of the contest against the New England Patriots without one of their offensive stars.
Running back Le'Veon Bell injured his left groin late in the first quarter Sunday. He was listed as questionable but returned for just one play in the third quarter before retreating to the sideline, where he remained the rest of the game. Bell finished with six totes for 20 yards (3.3 average).
After the game, Bell lamented he had "no burst anymore" because of a groin issue he had been dealing with for "a couple weeks"
"I'm not really sure what caused it," Bell said. "Just over the course of time, I've been hurting. So today was kind of like when it broke the camel's back, you know? I haven't been really telling people how I really felt. Came into the game today and really let my teammates down because I couldn't go. I've been out there fighting through, fighting through and I couldn't go today, so it sucked."
Bell went on to say he wasn't sure exactly what caused the injury to flare up, but he knew by the "second play of the game" there was a problem.
Bell indicated that he didn't tell anyone about the injury. He was not listed on the Steelers' injury report this week.
Without their dual-threat star, the Steelers played as if one arm was tied behind their back. DeAngelo Williams is a capable backup, but he doesn't provide Pittsburgh's offense the same big-play punch as Bell, especially in the passing game. Williams finished with 34 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown.
Sans Bell, a stagnant Steelers ground game managed just 54 yards on 20 carries for a 2.7 yard per tote average.
The Steelers leaned on Ben Roethlisberger who threw 47 passes, completing 31 for 314 yards, one touchdown and one interception for an 83.1 passer rating. Once Bell was out, the Patriots were able to load up stopping the passing game, leading to an inefficient Pittsburgh offense. Patriots stud corner Malcolm Butler helped hold Antonio Brown to 77 yards on seven receptions.
With Bell heading towards free agency -- and likely the franchise tag -- the Steelers got another reminder of his vital importance to the offense.