AFC North: Walter Payton

Le’Veon Bell’s breakout season led to another honor for the Pittsburgh Steelers running back.

Bell has been voted NFL FedEx Ground Player of the Year after rushing for 1,361 yards, second most in the NFL, and leading all running backs with 854 receiving yards.

Bell joined Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in winning FedEd Ground and Air Players of the Year.

Bell turned in one of the best seasons by a Steelers running back as he finished second to Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray with 2,215 yards from scrimmage. Bell set team records for most yards from scrimmage in a season as well as most receptions by a running back (83) in a season.

He joined Marshall Faulk as the only running backs in NFL history with at least 1,350 rushing yards and 850 receiving yards in a season. He also joined Walter Payton as the only players in NFL history with at least 200 yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games.

Bell accounted for 39.6 percent of the Steelers’ yards from scrimmage in their last six games, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the highest in the NFL during that span.

Bell was named first-team All-Pro and made his first Pro Bowl. Bell did not play in the annual all-star game because the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder was still recovering from a hyperextended right knee that he sustained in the Steelers’ final regular-season game.
Le'Veon Bell came within 42 yards of leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2014. He joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk as the only players in NFL history with at least 1,350 rushing yards and 850 receiving yards in a season, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

And yet nothing reflected his value more than the one game that Bell missed.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' offense struggled in a 30-17 AFC wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens with Bell watching helplessly on the sidelines because of a hyperextended knee.

The Steelers rushed for only 68 yards and gave up five sacks -- they had yielded four in the their last four regular-season games -- in the loss that ended their season. The critical turnover of the game came in the fourth quarter, when a Ben Roethlisberger pass bounced off the hands of running back Ben Tate and into the arms of Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

The Steelers could only wonder what might have been had Bell been healthy enough to play against the Ravens since he excels as a runner and receiver and is also adept at picking up blitzing linebackers.

Bell’s all-around game earned the second-year man a truckload of accolades, and he has been voted the AFC North’s Most Valuable Player.

Bell beat out Roethlisberger, who tied New Orleans’ Drew Brees for the most passing yards (4,952) in 2014, for the honor, which was voted on by ESPN reporters who cover AFC North teams.

“The things that he can do in all three phases of the game to run, to catch the ball, and to block are some of the most special things I’ve ever seen a running back do,” Roethlisberger said during Bell’s breakout season.

Bell set numerous Steelers records, including the one for most yards from scrimmage (2,215) in a season. He also joined the late Walter Payton as the only players in NFL history with at least 200 yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games.

Payton accomplished the feat in 1977. Bell matched it with 711 yards from scrimmage during a three-game stretch that bridged November and December.

“When they were talking about me and Walter Payton being the only ones having that (record), it kind of hit me a little bit,” Bell said, “like, OK, all the hard work I’ve been putting in for 17 years playing football and all the hard work I’ve been putting in is paying off. Being looked at as one of the better players in the NFL is something that I take pride in.”

And Bell only turns 23 when he celebrates his birthday Feb. 18.

"This is only my second year so I feel like I have room for improvement,” Bell said. “There’s still a lot of things I can work on and get better at.”

AFC North Most Valuable Player voting: Le'Veon Bell, 12 points; Ben Roethlisberger, 8; Joe Flacco, 4; Justin Forsett, 3; Antonio Brown, 2; Jeremy Hill, 1.

Panel of voters: Scott Brown, Jeremy Fowler, Coley Harvey, Jamison Hensley and Pat McManamon.
ATLANTA -- Lisa Bell sent her son, Le'Veon Bell, who happens to be the hottest running back in the NFL, a reminder as she ate breakfast Sunday morning.

“Hey Le'Veon getting ready for the game. Momma wishing you well,” Lisa Bell said from her hotel. “Don’t forget when you get in that end zone you’ve got to do that dance.”

Lisa Bell sent her son the video via text message, and the Pittsburgh Steelers running back posted it on his Twitter account.

There is a good chance Bell gets to dance for his mother Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

The Atlanta Falcons are last in the NFL in total defense (410.8 yards allowed per game), and five of Bell’s eight touchdowns this season have come in the Steelers’ last three games.

During that span, Bell has emerged as an MVP candidate and perhaps the best running back in the game.

The second-year pro has 711 all-purpose yards in the Steelers’ last three games.

Bell joined Walter Payton as the only players in NFL history with three consecutive games of at least 200 all-purpose yards in the Steelers’ 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday.
CINCINNATI -- Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell burnished his candidacy for the NFL Most Valuable Player Award by joining the late, great Walter Payton in a most exclusive club.

Bell piled up 235 rushing and receiving yards in the Steelers' 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, making it the third consecutive game in which the second-year man has accumulated at least 200 all-purpose yards.

Payton, the former Chicago Bears great, accomplished the feat in 1977. "Sweetness" had been the only player in NFL history to do so before Bell joined him.

"It's an honor to be mentioned with a guy like Walter Payton," Bell said after rushing for 185 yards and two touchdowns and catching six passes for 50 yards and a score. "I've heard a lot about him. Obviously I haven't seen a full game of how he runs, things like that, but I've seen a lot of highlights."

Bell continued to generate a lot of his own highlights in what has been a breakout season for the 2013 second-round draft pick. Running early and often behind pulling guard David DeCastro, Bell gashed the Bengals for 7.1 yards per carry.

He ripped off runs of 53 and 22 yards and the latter resulted in the touchdown that snuffed out any chances of a late rally by the Bengals.

Bell has 1,231 rushing yards -- only the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarco Murray has more -- and his 71 receptions are second on the Steelers as well, a team single-season record for most catches by a running back.

"He is a special talent," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I've said for many, many weeks now that's he's one of the best all-around backs in the game. You don't see a guy that takes pride in catching the ball and pass blocking and picking up blitzes like he does. I'm just proud of the way he's grown every week."
PITTSBURGH – Cornerback William Gay, who has lent his voice and support to ending domestic violence, is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Walter Payton Man of the Year.

The award, which is named after the late, great Chicago Bears running back, is given to one player on every NFL team and it recognizes contributions on and off the field.

Gay, a fifth-round pick in 2007, has never missed a game since breaking into the NFL. He has played 121 consecutive games, the most of any defensive back in the NFL, and Gay leads the Steelers with 12 passes broken up.

He returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown in the Steelers’ 51-34 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in late October.

Gay’s contributions off the field have been even more significant.

He has worked closely with the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, and recently the two helped launch the RUSafe app.

The app helps people determine if they are in an abusive relationship and puts them in touch with a local hotline. Gay, who lost his mother to domestic violence as a child, is the national spokesman for RUSafe.

He is also one of 23 current and former NFL players who appear in a public service announcement aimed at ending domestic violence.

Gay is eligible for the national Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which will be announced before Super Bowl XLIX.
Corey DillonJonathan Daniel/Allsport
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This is one of three finalists for the most memorable play in Bengals history. The others are Stanford Jennings' go-ahead, 93-yard kickoff return touchdown at the end of the third quarter in Super Bowl XXIII against the 49ers, and John Taylor's game-winning touchdown catch to beat the Bengals in that same game. This entry is a play from the middle of the 2000 season. Vote below for your favorite.

Score: Bengals 31, Broncos 21
Date: Oct. 22, 2000 Site: Paul Brown Stadium


Which is the most memorable play in Bengals' history?


Discuss (Total votes: 30,879)

Description: It started as just another late-October Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati in a season that had already been effectively declared a wash. Arguably the biggest storyline entering the Week 8 showdown revolved around Paul Brown Stadium and the hex the Bengals had seemingly been under since they opened it earlier that year. At 0-3 at home and 0-6 overall, the Bengals hadn't quite gotten acclimated to their new digs. Actually, they hadn't quite gotten used to playing on the road, either.

But what else was new? Playing in the 10th year of what ended up being a 14-season stretch without a winning record, the Bengals were in the middle of some of their darkest days as a franchise. They needed something to get excited about. Their fans needed something to cheer.

Corey Dillon provided that spark when he rushed around the left side for a 41-yard touchdown, and a dash into the NFL's history books.

With his touchdown run that extended a Bengals lead to the eventual 31-21 score they would win by, Dillon became the league's new single-game rushing record holder. The 41-yard scamper was his last on an afternoon that saw him collect 278 yards rushing, three more than the 275 Hall of Famer Walter Payton had in a November 1977 Bears win over the Vikings.

Payton's record had stood for 23 years. Dillon's barely made it three. Baltimore's Jamal Lewis rushed for 295 yards in a game against Cleveland in 2003.

Because of how long Payton's record stood, Dillon's record-setting day was warmly received across the league, and continues to be. The run into history was considered one of the best moments in the NFL that season, and it certainly ranks among the top all-time plays in Bengals history. Hence its inclusion in this list. Does it rank as the best in franchise history, though? We'll find out what you say later this week.
CANTON, Ohio -- When was the last time you heard the name Roland Williams?

What about Ernie Conwell or Ricky Proehl?

[+] EnlargeMarshall Faulk
AP Photo/Paul SakumaMarshall Faulk finished his career with more than 19,000 yards from scrimmage and 136 touchdowns.
Even Mike Martz, who is under fire in Chicago, got some love during Marshall Faulk's Hall of Fame speech Saturday night at Fawcette Stadium. Faulk credited many people and former teammates. But the Rams of the late-1990s and early-2000s mostly defined Faulk's career.

Spending most of his career under the tutelage Martz and Dick Vermeil in St. Louis, Faulk (19,154 yards) finished fourth all-time in yards from scrimmage behind Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton.

Martz made Faulk into the secret weapon. Martz found ways to get Faulk the ball in the running game, out of the backfield and also lined up as a receiver. Faulk became the new gold standard for all-purpose backs.

"Before Aaron Rodgers threw the ball [39] times in the Super Bowl against a vaunted Steelers defense, and before his counterpart Ben Roethlisberger threw it [40 times]. ... we had Mike Martz," Faulk explained. "The 'Mad Scientist' is what they called him."

Faulk also thanked former Rams stars like Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce. They are among the cogs that made the "Greatest Show on Turf" great and well ahead of its time.

Today most offenses will throw 40 times in a game at some point during the season. But none of those teams have another Marshall Faulk.
Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis joined Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on Wednesday to discuss the finals of the "Madden NFL 12" cover tournament. The results will be announced later today.

Hillis is surprised he made it this far and had no idea he was this popular. Browns fans have come out in droves to support Hillis during this tournament, where he's upset four straight higher seeds to make it to the finals.

Here are some other thoughts from Hillis:

On the Madden curse:

Hillis: For people to believe in this so-called curse, I can't wait to prove people wrong. From what I believe and where I am in my spiritual life, it would be good to prove them wrong in that sense.

On his football idols growing up:

Hillis: My football idol growing up, I was named after Walter Payton, but my idols at RB were Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith.

On his running style and longevity:

Hillis: When I play the game, I feel that I need to put it all into it. I don't care if I play 2 or 5 years. I just want to put it all into it. I don't think players will pick that up, they want longevity.

For the full chat transcript, click here.
Cleveland Browns receiver Mike Furrey is a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

Furrey joins Kansas City Chiefs guard Brian Waters and linebacker London Fletcher of the Washington Redskins in the final three. One of these players will be chosen for the award, which honors their service in the community this season, on Feb. 7 before the Super Bowl.

"Mike epitomizes what it means to be a true professional athlete," Browns president Mike Holmgren said in a statement. "His tireless efforts on the field and in the community are inspirational, and we are proud that he is a member of the Cleveland Browns."