PITTSBURGH -- Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell doesn’t want to dwell on last season, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about it from time to time.
"We have always felt like we haven't finished what we kind of started. Last year was a crazy run; we go into the AFC Championship Game without all of our players that we necessarily need. I end up getting hurt and run down. And it cost us,” Bell said.
Bell was playing as well as anyone before he got hurt against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last season, rushing for only 20 yards on six carries as the Steelers got soundly beaten 36-17. It was the Patriots standing in their way again just a few weeks ago, when New England came back to win 27-24.
A controversial finish by the Patriots helped get them to the No. 1 seed over Pittsburgh, but it was also a game with another major injury for the Steelers, who lost wide receiver Antonio Brown to a calf injury in the first half.
The Patriots and Steelers both have first-round byes, and as they prepare for their respective games next week, it didn’t seem that Bell was thinking about the Patriots specifically. He just wants a fair fight, whoever that happens to be against.
No excuses this time.
“We end up losing this year to the Patriots and we didn't have AB in the second half,” Bell said. “We want to feel like we're going in full power, full strength for the playoffs and if we lose, then we'll be like ‘OK, we lost at full strength, there's nothing we can say about it. There's no more excuses now.' We've got to get back there, get there and win games and if guys beat us the way we are, then so be it."
Maybe that lingering feeling of needing to prove something was why Steelers lineman Maurkice Pouncey noted that players were all-in for practice on Wednesday even without an opponent lined up this weekend.
“We know it’s an elimination game,” he said. “We could play next week and be at home right after that, so guys are really, really focused and locked in.
“It’s an exciting time of the year man, everybody’s not in it.”
He added: “We came into OTAs saying that we wanted this, to have that first-round bye and try to sweep the (AFC) North and I think we accomplished some of the goals. But we have to stay focused and keep our eyes on the prize. The bigger prize is down the line.”