After only two full professional seasons, Le'Veon Bell has earned a Pro Bowl spot, the Steelers team-MVP award and he was the second leading rusher in the NFL this season. He has been the catalyst for one of the most prolific offensive seasons in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, while serving as a receiver, pass protector and runner.
In Sunday's AFC-North-clinching victory against the Bengals, Bell suffered a scary looking injury which sent shockwaves through Steelers Nation.
After catching a pass, Bell was the victim of a huge hit by Bengals S Reggie Nelson. Nelson hit Bell squarely in the knee, which bent back in gruesome fashion and the second year Pro Bowler immediately dropped the ball and clutched his injured limb in agony.
Thankfully, it appears the injury was less severe than originally feared, with Bell's initial diagnosis being a hyperextended knee. Although a timetable for his return hasn't been set, Pittsburgh fans are likely rejoicing over the fact that Bell possibly dodged a bullet and avoided a potentially devastating injury.
In the coming days, speculation regarding the tackle in question will come to the forefront. As of this writing, there's perhaps no bigger villain for Steeler nation than Reggie Nelson, with every Pittsburgh fan asking the same question of whether Nelson's hit was dirty.
Clearly, it appears that Nelson targeted Bell's knee. Unfortunately for Nelson, he has a bit of a reputation as a "dirty player," meaning the scrutiny he's about to face will be sizable to say the least. But before legions of Steelers fans stand up and cry foul, just remember a few things:
For one, full disclosure, the hit seemed dirty. Nelson, however, was within the rules with the hit, meaning that what he did doesn't qualify as illegal, unnecessary or worthy of a flag. Had Nelson attacked Bell high, he almost certainly would've been flagged for a hit on a defenseless receiver. He wasn't left with much of a choice.
Secondly, Mike Tomlin mentioned that he's okay with the hit. Although Tomlin and Nelson appeared to get into a bit of a post-game kerfuffle, Tomlin maintained this brief bout of animosity was the result of another issue, not the hit on Bell. In his post-game press conference, Tomlin said "the hit was legal" and went as far as complimenting Nelson's abilities. Obviously, Tomlin is probably harboring some bitter feelings towards Nelson, but when an All-Pro-caliber player is knocked from a game, it's going to ignite some controversy.
Finally, Steelers fans need to look at the big picture. Most importantly, Bell seems to have avoided what very well could have been a career-altering injury. He might be hobbled in the coming weeks and, depending on how he responds to treatments, it's possible he might not return to form this season. Bell does, however, have the ability to fully recover in time for next season. Had the damage been more devastating, the movement of Bell's knee suggests he could have suffered an ACL tear, an injury which could take six months to a year for full recovery.
The Steelers are the 2014 AFC North champions. They enter the playoffs as perhaps the hottest team in the NFL and their young, talented running back appears to have a bright, shining ascent to superstardom ahead of him.