FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Le’Veon Bell feels better than his statistics look three games into his return to the NFL.
The star running back famously took 2018 off in a contract dispute with the Steelers and seemed to be rested and ready to make a big impact.
But after a 30-14 loss to the Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in which the Jets’ offense failed to score a point, his season totals are 56 rushes for 163 yards, 20 receptions for 121 and the Jets’ lone offensive touchdown.
His statistical line against the Patriots: 18 carries for 35 yards and four receptions for 28.
“Individually, I feel good,” Bell said afterward. “I can still read the holes and catch the ball well. I’ll continually get better each and every week.
“When Week 8 or 9 comes by and you ask me then, I might look back on Week 2 and 3 and say, ‘Oh, I was rusty.’ But I feel good right now.”
Bell was calm and philosophical while speaking to reporters in the visiting locker room, but shortly before that, he posted a tweet that read in part, “We embrace adversity, we embrace the hate, and everyone that wants to see my team fail, or me fail individually, I’ll remember, we’ll remember it ALL, & use it, & wear it as a badge of honor!”
Assessing Bell fairly is nearly impossible because of the absence of quarterback Sam Darnold for the past two games and the dysfunction on the line.
Bell naturally is a focus of opposing defenses that do not have much else to worry about.
“Nobody can stop him,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “You can’t put one or two guys on him. You've got to do a good job of defeating blockers, staying in our gaps and then tackling. He’s a great back. He’s got tremendous balance, power, vision. Our players really did a good job of being disciplined and tackling.”
Bell’s longest rush was for 8 yards, and he often was hit in the backfield before getting up much of a head of steam.
It did not help that the Jets often were in third-and-long and did not seem inclined to take chances on a deep pass with third-stringer Luke Falk at quarterback.
On one third-and-15 play in the first quarter, Falk handed off to Bell on a draw, resulting in an 8-yard loss.
"We just had a lot of negative plays where we made a mistake, so of course the run efficiency isn't going to look efficient, because we had a lot of negative runs,'' he said. "But we had a lot of positive runs. We did our job on a couple of plays, just sometimes we have to stop with the negative plays and hurting ourselves . . . There's not a lot of plays for third-and-10, third-and-20.''
Bell played on some high-powered offenses in Pittsburgh alongside the likes of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown. Does he see the necessary talent in the Jets’ locker room?
“I’m not going to stop believing in my guys,” he said. “My guys definitely can make plays. We have to clean up the negative things. We’re hurting ourselves, a lot.”
The Jets are running out of time to be a playoff contender, if that clock has not already expired. But Bell sees better things ahead.
“I don’t try to get frustrated, just because of the fact I know we’re getting into a system, so it takes a little time learning everything and getting all the plays right and reading all the defenses correctly,” he said.
Still, does he find it difficult to believe the Jets have one offensive touchdown after three games?
“It’s not hard to believe,” he said, “because we haven’t earned it.”