BALTIMORE — James Conner followed up AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors by running wild on the Ravens with 163 total yards, including 107 rushing, on 31 touches in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 23-16 win Sunday.
Conner has gotten the ball 108 times for 689 yards over the past four games, prompting a reporter to ask what he thinks about a similar workload over the final eight games.
“I’m built for this,” said Conner matter-of-factly.
The Steelers are keeping the good tailback times flowing without Le’Veon Bell, who is refusing to sign his $14.5 million franchise tender to preserve his body for a future contract.
Conner is the first player in league history to produce four games of 100-plus rushing yards, 50-plus receiving yards and a touchdown in a single season, according to NFL stats.
Conner is on pace for 2,170 yards over 16 games, just short of Bell’s best full-season performance of 2,215 yards in 2014. In 2016, Bell paced for a historic 2,512 yards but played 12 games.
Teammates have been effusive in praise of Conner throughout the season, with left tackle Alejandro Villanueva saying after the game, “He’s showing that no challenge is too big for him.”
As Conner continues to perform, players have grown tired of questions regarding Bell’s absence.
“Honestly, no one cares anymore,” guard David DeCastro said in the locker room after the game. “Why would I? I don’t want to waste the energy. I have to block some of the best players on the best defense in the world. Do you think I’m going to worry about a guy who’s not here? Like I’ve said before, I love Le’Veon. There’s great memories with him. But it would do an injustice to this game worrying about someone else when I’m on the field. I’m just trying to give my best effort for the rest of the people on the field with me.”
Conner took a diplomatic approach, telling ESPN’s Dianna Russini on the field after the game that Bell is welcome back in the locker room.
Bell told ESPN in early October he planned to play this season and has good relationships in the locker room to ease tension. Bell must arrive by Nov. 13 or he forfeits the season.
“We know what Le’Veon brings to the table,” Conner said. “He’s one of the best backs in the league, if not the best, so whenever he comes back we are going to welcome him with open arms, but it’s just next man up always.”
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