Le’Veon Bell started the season as the Jets' lead running back and is ending it as a second-string or situational back with Kansas City. And Bell couldn’t be happier.
Bell was "frustrated" with losing when he was with the Jets. Now he has a chance to win his first Super Bowl on Sunday. No one could have seen this happening when Bell was taking handoffs from Sam Darnold in the summer and fall.
"It’s been an interesting season to say the least for me," Bell said on a Zoom call Tuesday. "One of my more intriguing seasons. When I first started the season, I was in New York, I was kind of fighting an uphill battle with everything that was going on over there. It didn’t work out for whatever reason. I ended up coming over here. The first day I came over here I loved it right away."
Bell was the Jets’ splash free-agent signing in 2019 but ended up being a bust. After inking a four-year, $52.5 million deal, Bell rushed for 863 yards and five touchdowns in 17 games as a Jet.
Former Jets coach Adam Gase was not in favor of the Bell signing, and there was friction from the beginning. Gase, whom the Jets replaced last month with Robert Saleh, was criticized for how he used Bell and not going to him more. But Bell never displayed the explosiveness or elusiveness that made him a Pro Bowl back with the Steelers.
Bell’s tumultuous brief run with the Jets ended in mid-October after he was targeted just once in a 20-point loss to the Cardinals on Oct. 11 The Jets fell to 0-5. Bell’s frustration was evident. He "liked" multiple tweets that said the Jets should trade him if Gase wasn’t going to use him the right way.
The Jets tried to trade Bell, but they found no takers. They waived him two days later. Bell had opportunities to go to Buffalo or Miami, where he would have been a featured back. But Bell said he was so soured by his time with the Jets that he wanted to go to a proven winner.
Bell chose the defending Super Bowl champs and backing up rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Sometimes Bell splits backfield reps with Darrel Williams.
"I was so torn between how much of a workload that I actually wanted versus winning," Bell said. "I was just in a spot with the Jets, I was so focused on winning. I didn’t care about how my production would look or how many touchdowns I would score. I think I got so frustrated after losing so many times."
"Once I got out of that situation," Bell added, "it was, ‘OK, now I got to go somewhere and win a Super Bowl.' "
Bell, 28, said reaching the Super Bowl for the first time in his seven-year career is like a "dream come true." But even in Kansas City behind a far better offensive line than he played with as a Jet, Bell hasn’t made a huge impact.
He rushed for 254 yards on 63 carries with two touchdowns in nine games. He didn’t record a 100-yard scrimmage game with either team this season.
Bell’s best game came in Week 15 when he helped Kansas City beat New Orleans. He ran for 62 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. Bell missed the AFC Championship Game with a knee injury, but he’s expected to play Sunday against Tampa Bay.
"I really like him," coach Andy Reid said. "I like him as a kid, and I like him as a player. He brings that veteran experience. He’s been the best in the business at what he’s done. He’s handled this role well."
The Jets played Kansas City less than three weeks after Bell was waived. He admitted he wanted to torch the Jets. He didn’t. He rushed for 7 yards on six carries and finished with 38 scrimmage yards in a 35-9 Kansas City win.
"I wanted to have a big game," Bell said. "It was supposed to be a ‘revenge game’ in a sense. It didn’t end up turning out that way. They played hard. It’s not like they weren’t trying. I feel like they got a lot of good players over there. I feel like together they weren’t playing together in a sense.
"I still talk to a lot of guys over there. I’m still close with a lot of guys over there. They got a new coach. Things might change over there. I guess time will tell."