PITTSBURGH (AP) — The feeling of helplessness remains very real to Le’Veon Bell.
Bell was standing on the sideline in sweatpants each of the last two Januarys, his knees in various stages of repair, the Pittsburgh Steelers trying to soldier on in the playoffs without their do everything running back.
Not this time. When the AFC North champion Steelers (11-5) sprint out of the tunnel Sunday to face the Miami Dolphins (10-6) in the wild-card round at not exactly tropical Heinz Field, Bell will be at the front of the pack: healthy, hungry and totally hyped for his long overdue playoff debut.
“I am obviously going to be excited, anxious and pumped-up, and I need to keep my energy up, have my teammates feed off my energy, and let them know how important this game is to me,” said Bell, who averaged an NFL-high 157 yards from scrimmage in 2016.
Bell’s not the only one. For the first time since their last trip to the Super Bowl six years ago, the Steelers enter the postseason with all their bold-faced names available, most notably wide receiver Antonio Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“There’s no excuses,” guard David DeCastro said.
And zero concern about the Steelers getting ahead of themselves; call it a byproduct of getting rolled by the Dolphins 30-15 in Miami on Oct. 16. Pittsburgh came in 4-1 and left with Roethlisberger’s left knee in need of surgery and the defense in need of serious repair after Miami’s Jay Ajayi piled up 204 yards on the ground .
“I don’t think there’s any sense of overconfidence,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “We did not play our best. They kicked our butts the first time around. We’re thankful we get another opportunity to rectify that.”
Miami gets a chance to prove its first playoff appearance since 2008 is hardly a fluke even during a season in which the Dolphins were outgained, outscored and often outplayed by quality competitive … save for those dominant three hours against Pittsburgh.
Enter veteran backup quarterback Matt Moore, who will fill in with Ryan Tannehill’s sprained left knee still not quite ready. The Dolphins went 2-1 down the stretch with Moore under center. All due respect to the 24-year-old Bell, the 32-year-old Moore’s wait for this moment has been considerably longer.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” Moore said. “There are a lot of guys . some guys go a lot and some don’t get those chances.”
Some things to look for Sunday:
LONG TIME COMING: Five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake has never been to the playoffs. Five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has never won a postseason game.
They’ll anchor the Dolphins’ front four Sunday and try to apply the sort of pressure on Roethlisberger that helped Miami beat Pittsburgh in Week 6.
The 305-pound Suh laughed when asked if defensive tackles get butterflies in such situations.
“I had butterflies the first time I was on Heinz Field my rookie year, when I played my first preseason game,” he said. “But I definitely won’t have them this time around.”
BUNDLE UP: Temperatures are expected to be in the teens at kickoff, with wind chills likely to dip below zero.
“Those guys from South Beach coming up, make it 1 degree out there,” Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said. “It felt like it was 100-something degrees when we went down there. They didn’t lighten up the temperature when we were there.”
Here’s the thing though: The Dolphins had no trouble with the cold in 2013 when they came up in early December and pulled out a 34-28 win in the snow.
GASE-STEELERS REMATCH: The Steelers haven’t always been world beaters when facing a quarterback making his postseason debut. Five years ago Tim Tebow threw for 316 yards, including the 80-yard winner to Demaryius Thomas, to give Denver a 29-23 victory in the wild-card round.
The Broncos’ quarterbacks coach that season was current Miami head coach Adam Gase.
“I remember it being an interesting week, to say the least,” Gase said.
Tebow’s pass to Thomas came on the first snap of overtime. Gase recalls many Denver players hesitated to celebrate because they were unsure whether the game was over.
“It was the first year we had the new overtime rules,” Gase said. “So we scored a touchdown, and half of our team was still sitting on the bench, even though we talked about it over 100 times.”
LATE SETBACKS: The Steelers were optimistic tight end Ladarius Green would be available after missing the final two games of the regular season with a concussion. Green, who averaged 16.9 yards per catch in six games, practiced in the middle of the week but was held out on Friday by coach Mike Tomlin. The Dolphins will likely be without top cornerback Byron Maxwell, slow to recover from a troublesome ankle injury that forced him to skip the regular-season finale.
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