It happened at 10:34 p.m. on Sunday night.
A stadium fell silent.
A fan base held their collective breath.
Steeler Nation starting saying novenas.
Le’Veon Bell was down on that Heinz Field grass and he wasn’t popping right back up.
Le’Veon Bell was down on the Heinz Field grass and he was clutching his right knee.
Le’Veon Bell might very well have been lying there as the Steelers season — in many respects — was over.
And it still might be over. Who knows? Who knows if he will really play again this season? Who knows if the Steelers’ chances are dashed for good?
After absorbing a hit from Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Reggie Nelson, Bell left what turned into a 27-17 victory with what head coach Mike Tomlin called a hyperextension. After the game, in which the Steelers sewed up the AFC North title, Tomlin also proclaimed Bell’s knee “structurally appears to be fine” and hopefully the squad will have the standout running back on Saturday night against Baltimore in that playoff opener.
Sure, that’s fair.
One retort, however: After watching that lick Nelson put on Bell and the subsequent reaction at the trainer’s table by the running back, are you anywhere near confident Bell — if he plays at all against the Ravens — will approach 100 percent? Especially on a short week with the game being Saturday? I know my answer. It’s a resounding “no.”
As much as my heart would scream at me that Bell could grit through the week, do a bunch of rehab and get back to his usual self for the game Saturday night, my head pulls me in another direction.
Logic screams at me that after 282 attempts on the ground and the beating he has taken after catching another 77 passes and being the Steelers’ workhorse for more than four months, there’s no way, in six days, he’s going to recoil back to full steam after that Nelson hit.
At best, I would probably hope for a Le’Veon Bell who is in the neighborhood of about 75 percent healthy — and that seems a best-case scenario.
Sure, there is the dangerous firepower of Antonio Brown and that charmed right arm of Ben Roethlisberger that has led to a guy like Martavis Bryant becoming a bona fide threat in the offense, but in some ways, much of this circles back to a healthy Bell.
If there isn’t that peril that Bell can bring to your defense, wouldn’t it make it a ton easier to try to simply shut down the passing game?
Seems, from this vantage, the Steelers might have a pretty difficult time beating the Ravens if they had to go fully one-dimensional and, from what I’ve seen from Josh Harris and Dri Archer, there’s no way I’d trust either of them in a playoff game as the feature back.
So this all seems destined for an obvious eventuality — the Steelers forced to trot a less-than-healthy Bell out there against the Ravens, hoping that something cataclysmic doesn’t happen and he performs well enough to get them through.
There’s no doubt in my eyes that if Bell is able to play on Saturday, he will.
There is more than a little doubt, however, that the Steelers can beat many teams — especially playoff teams — if Bell isn’t at least 75 percent or so.