Le’Veon Bell just received the exclusive franchise tag and is in negotiations for a mega long-term deal to stay with the Pittsburgh Steelers. So why is the tailback living in the past?

On Friday, Bell took to ESPN’s First Take of all places to rehash Pittsburgh’s disappointing defeat to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, a contest that he says could have turned if not for his untimely injury.

I think we beat them,” Bell proclaimed, when prompted to imagine an alternate injury-free timeline. “When I was out there, I wasn’t feeling well at all. The fact I was out there (early in the game), their game plan was so different just because of the fact I was out there.

“If I go out there healthy and we go out there and do what we do, the way we’ve been doing it the whole season, especially in the playoffs, running the ball, running play-action, leaving (Antonio Brown) one-on-one … I think the outcome would have been different. We’ll get back to that next year.”

Bell recorded just 20 yards on the ground before going down with a groin injury late in the first quarter of the Steelers‘ 36-17 loss. Without Bell in the lineup, Ben Roethlisberger lacked the firepower to keep pace with Tom Brady and Co., and Pittsburgh went quietly into the night. 

While there’s no doubt that the score and pace of the game might have been different if Bell had played the full 60, it’s bold to suggest that Pittsburgh’s defense would’ve stopped the Pats on that day. Remember: Chris HoganChris Hogan — went for 180 and two scores on nine catches.

Unless Bell was slated to be slotted in press coverage in the second half, it’s unlikely the Steelers would’ve walked out of Foxborough with the win.

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