PITTSBURGH - The Steelers tried to keep a stiff upper lip about the loss of Pro Bowl running back Le'Veon Bell, but the truth is they desperately missed their go-to tailback.
With Bell sidelined for Saturday night's wild-card playoff game against the Ravens, Pittsburgh's offense just wasn't the same in a 30-17 loss to Baltimore at Heinz Field.
The Steelers were so thin at running back that they signed veteran Ben Tate, who had played for the Texans, Browns and Vikings in the previous 12 months. Not only that, but Tate was forced into a starting role because the Steelers didn't want to put too much pressure on undrafted rookie free agent Josh Harris, who had all of 19 rushing yards entering the game.
The net result was that the Steelers, who had used a much more balanced approach with Bell, had to rely almost exclusively on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He had 45 passing attempts compared to 19 rushes by Pittsburgh's running backs.
"I take my hat off to those three [running backs] that played," said Roethlisberger, referring to Tate, Harris and rookie Dri Archer. "For guys that really hadn't taken that many reps all year in light of actual practice, for what they did, I think that they ran hard and [pass] protected when they had to, and I think that's definitely different when you're not in game action to always be on the same page with someone that plays like I do. They played their butts off and they weren't back there asking me questions. They know what they had to do."
But Roethlisberger said the Steelers had to change how they approached the game because of Bell's absence.
"We definitely changed some things," he said. "With our protections, we tried to do some different things, but it's not like that's the reason we lost the game. It's not like we just re-tooled the whole playbook. I just didn't make enough plays."
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had a key fourth-quarter interception of Roethlisberger that the Ravens converted into a touchdown on the next play, said he definitely could feel the Steelers change their approach because of Bell's absence.
"We had to convince them to get out of their run game without '26,' " said Suggs, referring to Bell's uniform number. "He's a fantastic player, and him not playing definitely worked to our benefit. I'm just going to be honest. Had they had him, that is a whole other weapon between him and [wide receiver Antonio Brown]. It always benefits the defense when they don't have an explosive player."