Vontaze Burfict, the controversial Cincinnati Bengals linebacker who injured Bell with a tackle in last season's meeting in Pittsburgh, sent Bell a private message Tuesday night offering his support. Earlier in the day, Bell tweeted a picture of himself running on a treadmill for the first time since the serious injury.
"Good to see you back running," Burfict said to Bell in a private Twitter message, "see you next year, bruh."
Bell publicized the direct message Wednesday afternoon when he tweeted to his followers a screenshot of the brief conversation. Adding the "100" emoji, Bell clearly appreciated Burfict's acknowledgement of this latest step in his recovery.
It was at the end of an 8-yard pass last November when Burfict caught Bell and wrestled him down. After the game, the Steelers learned the running back tore his MCL. During a post-game session with reporters, some Steelers took exception to the way Burfict hopped up immediately after the tackle and ran to the middle of the field to celebrate the stop with a teammate.
"He's that type of guy. That type of guy gets his sooner or later. So, wait and see, I guess," Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster said of Burfict. "If you're on the field with him, you know what I mean by that. They'll play it off, he'll act dumb about it. But you don’t run across the field hyped, celebrating, jumping up and down when a guy goes down like that."
Burfict later said it wasn't his intent to injure Bell and that he didn't know the player was hurt when he ran off to celebrate the stop. Having just returned from his own serious knee injury, Burfict was playing in his first game in more than a year. To him, the second-quarter tackle was a sign he was back and he wanted to celebrate.
After his role in two other contentious Bengals-Steelers meetings later in the season, Burfict was suspended in January for three games of the 2016 season. Along with the suspension, he has been fined six times and drawn 16 personal-foul penalties in his four-year career.
In a meeting last month with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Burfict was told he needed to start better respecting his opponents.
"His info with me is I have to care about my opponent," Burfict told ESPN's Josina Anderson in a televised interview that ran this week. "And I understand where he's coming from. Because if you care about your opponent, you'll probably play cleaner."