PITTSBURGH – It took him four weeks longer than expected, but rookie running back Le’Veon Bell finally made his NFL debut Sunday during the Steelers’ 34-27 loss to Minnesota in London.
Despite the loss, it was a memorable beginning.
Bell started, one of four rookies to do so for the Steelers, and rushed for 57 yards with two touchdowns on 16 carries. He added 27 yards on four receptions.
Bell became the first Steelers rookie to score a pair of touchdowns in his first NFL game since Louis Lipps did so in 1984.
But Bell, the Steelers’ second-round draft pick, wasn’t happy with the performance.
“The two touchdowns don’t mean anything to me because we lost,” said Bell. “I needed three.”
Bell missed the first three games with a mid-foot sprain suffered in the second week of the preseason. He also missed the preseason opener with a bruised knee that limited him in the first couple weeks of training camp.
All told, Bell had four carries in the preseason.
“The first couple of times I got the ball, I just wasn’t comfortable yet,” Bell said. “Once I got into the flow of the game, got my first couple of hits, I kind of got into the flow of the game. That’s what happens. It was my first game back.
“It was my first NFL game and I just have to grow and try to get better.”
The Steelers, off to their first 0-4 start since 1968, hope Bell’s growth is as speedy as the 6-2, 230-pound showed he could be on his first NFL touchdown.
Bell took a handoff from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at the Vikings’ 8-yard line and started toward the right side of the line. He did a jump stop, bounced to the outside and dove the final three yards into the end zone, flipping and landing on his back.
“He’s going to be a good back,” said tight end Heath Miller. “He’s just got to keep grinding like the rest of us, keep working at it.”
Bell’s two rushing touchdowns were the first for a Steelers rookie running back since Bam Morris scored twice in a Dec. 4, 1994 win at Cincinnati. His yardage total was the highest for a Pittsburgh running back making his debut since Jerome Bettis had 57 yards on the ground at Jacksonville in the 1996 season opener.
Bell did slightly aggravate the injury to his right foot on the final play of the third quarter, but returned to the game.
“He gave us a good effort from a conditioning standpoint for a guy who hadn’t played a lot of football,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “To absorb the number of snaps that he did was a positive.”
The workload only figures to get heavier from here as the Steelers attempt to win their first game.
“We’ve got to keep moving forward,” Bell said. “Things are going to fall our way eventually. The balls just haven’t been bouncing our way. We’re going to turn things around. We just got to keep taking it day by day, working hard and doing the little things right.”
Odds and end zones
Guard Ramon Foster, who left Sunday’s game with a pectoral injury, is expected to play when the Steelers return Oct. 13 at New York against the Jets. … Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a slight dislocation of his right index finger after hitting his hand on that of Minnesota’s Everson Griffen while throwing a fourth quarter TD pass. He did not miss any time and the injury is not expected to have any long-term effects. … After practicing Tuesday, the Steelers will practice again today before breaking until Monday.