Judgements Eight: How Steelers' Le'Veon Bell gambled ... and lost
A smart man once said that timing is everything, and Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell just found out why.
A month ago, the Steelers didn't just miss their star running back. They needed him. And now. Well, now … not so much. That's because while Le'Veon Bell is away, James Conner can play.
In each of the last three games Conner has run for 100 or more yards and scored twice, and, "Big deal," you say. Well, yes, as a matter of fact, it is. It's the first time any Steelers' running back has done it. Not Franco. Not Jerome Bettis. And not Le'Veon Bell.
In fact, it's the first time anyone in the NFL has done it since Chris Johnson in 2009.
Now, look at the bigger picture. Take Le'Veon, 2017 vs. James Conner, 2018. In Bell's first seven starts a year ago he had three 100-yard games, four TDs and 898 yards from scrimmage. In Conner's first seven starts this season he has four 100-yard games, nine TDs and 922 yards from scrimmage.
Put them together, and what do you have? No leverage, Le'Veon, that's what.
Bell was willing to sacrifice $850,000 a week because he thought time was on his side and that the longer he waited the more the Steelers would need him. But just the opposite happened. Not only are they leading the AFC North; they found a replacement who -- at least for now -- is more productive and a lot less expensive.
Bottom line: Le'Veon Bell lost a big gamble. Nobody's talking about him anymore. They're talking about James Conner.
LUCK SHOULD JOIN MVP CONVERSATION
Too bad the Indianapolis Colts aren't better. Andrew Luck not only would be the frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year, but he'd be one of the top two or three players mentioned for league MVP, too. A radio host the other day asked me if there was anyone in Todd Gurley's stratosphere for the award, and I told him, yes, I thought Patrick Mahomes was right there with him. Of course, Aaron Rodgers is always a possibility because … well, because he's Aaron Rodgers. But I didn't mention Luck, and I should have. The guy has 23 touchdown passes, second only to Mahomes, and plays with a team that … until the past two weeks … couldn't run and doesn't have the weapons that surround Mahomes. More than that, over the past five weeks, he's thrown 18 touchdown passes, including at least three in each game, and lifted the Colts to back-to-back wins for the first time since 2016. Andrew Luck has carried this team all season, and, no, the Colts aren't going to win the division, but that's because their defense has more leaks than the White House. Halfway through this year, Andrew Luck is MVP worthy. So add his name to the ballot.
- So Tampa Bay's Dirk Koetter says it's too early to say who quarterbacks his next game. He's wrong. Give Ryan Fitzpatrick the ball and Jameis Winston the clipboard. Winston hasn't had a game this season without two interceptions, and he had four Sunday. Worse, in three-and-a-half games, he has 10 picks and 13 sacks. Translation: Adios. Now, the bigger question: What's next for Winston … and I mean beyond this season? If I were Tampa Bay, I'd move on. The guy's a liability on and off the field.
- Don't go to sleep on Carolina. A week ago, the Panthers beat the defending Super Bowl champs. Now they've trashed the league's best defense. The Panthers can run, they can play defense and they have Cam Newton. Take that trifecta to the window and cash it.
- Where did all the sunshine go in Florida? All three of its NFL teams (Miami, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville) lost, and so did the University of Florida, Florida State and the University of South Florida.
- Best team out there is the Rams. We all know that. But who's the worst? You tell me. The race for the first pick of the 2019 draft is a dead heat right now, with the Raiders, 49ers and Giants all starring in "Despicable Me III."
- The Rams are bound to lose sooner or later, and I say it's sooner. Like next Sunday at New Orleans. The Saints are on a six-game tear, can play defense and have Drew Brees. Best of all, they're home.
- So Green Bay lost. At least the Packers know this: They can stay with the Rams. They took them to the mat … in L.A., no less … and lost only because a Ty Montgomery fumble (why return the kickoff?) kept Aaron Rodgers from having the ball at the finish.
- Enough is enough. It's time for the Giants to take a look at rookie quarterback Kyle Lauletta. There's no reason to roll out Eli Manning as a piñata for another defeat. The season's lost. So start building for the future.
- And while we're on the subject, coach Pat Shurmur should give up the play-calling. When nothing's working, you change it. So change it, Pat.
- It's not Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins or J.J. Watt that have me thinking Houston in the AFC South. It's the schedule. Houston's the only division team with a winning record, and five of its next six games are vs. opponents with non-winning records. Washington is the sole exception.
- Just a hunch, but a lot of people out there don't think Todd Gurley stopping ... and not scoring … just before the goal line in the last minute of play was as "smart" as FOX announcers Thom Brennaman and Troy Aikman thought. The spread was 7-1/2 in favor of the Rams. Had Gurley scored (and he could've walked in), the Rams beat the spread. But he didn't. So plenty of people who would've cashed didn't.
- There's no way of overstating the importance of that Eagles' victory because it keeps them within reach (a game-and-a-half) of NFC East leader Washington at the bye. But now comes the hard part. Because now comes the heavy lifting. Five of Philadelphia's eight remaining opponents (including the Redskins twice) are against division leaders.
- Maybe, just maybe, that's a defining moment for rookie Josh Rosen. All I know is there are a lot of people in Phoenix who believe in "Wich Craft."
- The Patriots don't need an elite pass receiver. They need an elite pass rusher.
- Let's make it easy on everyone and not schedule Carl Cheffers' crew for another Browns' game.
- The more I see Mitch Trubisky the more I think he's a more dangerous running back than quarterback.
- Look, I don't get why those four Jaguars' players ran out on a $64,000 bill, either. But the bigger question is: What were they doing out at 4 a.m.? Or, better yet, why no curfew, Doug Marrone? This was hardly the Jags' first visit to London, their home away from home. So let me repeat: Why no curfew? Stupid is as stupid does.
- And while we're on the subject … how do four guys run up a $64,000 bar bill?
- Don't tell me they're the L.A. Chargers … because they're not. The proof: Last weekend's TV ratings when the Bolts played in London. They were three times higher in San Diego than they were in L.A.
- This Halloween, Kareem Hunt is going as Renaldo Nehemiah.
- Kansas City coach Andy Reid says he has "a hard time" believing anybody is playing running back better than Hunt. Maybe it's time he meets Todd Gurley.
- I thought the Colts weren't supposed to be able to run the ball. They've had back-to-back 200-yard games for the first time since 1985.
- Jon Gruden is 1-10 in his last 11 games. Just sayin.'
- I confess: I was wrong about Adrian Peterson. I thought the 33-year-old would wind down as the season wore on … but he's not. The last three games he's run for 345 yards, including 149 Sunday, and scored three times.
- Peterson is right. The "sky's the limit" for Giants' running back Saquon Barkley. Of course, now the sky's falling on him and his teammates.
- I already have the Saints going to the conference championship game, and here's why: They can win anywhere, and the schedule please. With Sunday night's victory they're 4-0 on the road.
FIVE THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
- It's official: Adam Vinatieri is the league's all-time leading scorer. He passed Hall-of-Famer Morten Andersen Sunday with 10 points. He has 2,550 for his career.
- Death, taxes and the Browns in Pittsburgh. That was Cleveland's 15th straight loss there.
- The Raiders now have four losses this year when they led at the half and three where they led after three quarters. They don't need Khalil Mack. They need Mariano Rivera.
- In their last 11 games, the Bucs have 31 giveaways and 11 takeaways. Check, please.
- The Rams' Todd Gurley has scored in 11 straight games, and if that seems like a lot it's because it is. But it's not the league record, and it's not close. So what is? Try 18, by the Colts' Lenny Moore (1963-65) and the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson (2004-05).
SUNDAY'S GOLD JACKET QUOTE
"We love our kicker to death, but we've got to find a way to put six points on the board more times than not in a game." -- Giants RB Saquon Barkley on Big Blue's offensive woes.
Giants' quarterback Eli Manning has been sacked as many times in eight games this season (31) as he was in 15 a year ago. He was sacked seven times Sunday and has been collared 15 times in the past three games. He's also been sacked at least four times in five of the Giants' eight starts, including each of the past three.
SUNDAY'S BIGGEST WINNER
SEATTLE QB RUSSELL WILSON. He's had bigger win than Sunday's defeat of Detroit. But he hasn't had many better. Wilson threw as many incompletions as he had touchdown passes (3), produced a perfect passer rating (158.3) for the first time in his career and led Seattle to a decisive road win over a Lions' team that had won three of its last four. Russell Wilson does more with less than virtually everyone out there, and, yes, if you're wondering: He should be an MVP candidate. Again.
SUNDAY'S BIGGEST LOSER
TAMPA BAY QB JAMEIS WINSTON. He stunk. Again. And now he's in danger of losing his job. Again. The first time it was because he was suspended by the league. Now it's because he can't stay away from costly mistakes. The Bucs have been patient with Winston, but this may be it for him. Frankly, it should be.