Coming off an eventful week that included a bout with the flu and a headline-making bowling party, Bell showed flashes of his old form Thursday night -- but it wasn't enough to sustain the Jets, 42-21 losers at M&T Bank Stadium.
Bell lost close to 10 pounds before missing last weekend's game, but he showed fresh legs with 21 carries against a sturdy Ravens defense. It wasn't his fault the Jets lost for the ninth time, clinching their fourth consecutive losing season -- the franchise's longest drought in the Super Bowl era.
The Jets (5-9) were undermined by two turnovers by quarterback Sam Darnold and an inability to contain Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who threw five touchdowns and rushed for 86 yards in a performance that likely clinched the NFL MVP award.
After saying earlier in the week that he was being underutilized, Bell seemed happy with his workload and production.
"Rather than sprinkled around, when you get [the ball] in doses, it allows you to kind of feel a defense out and the O-line gets to feel themselves out," Bell said. "You get in a rhythm with the O-line. That's when special things start to happen. I think we got a little sense of that tonight and it felt good."
With six starters inactive due to injuries, the Jets' plan was to lean on Bell, who missed Sunday's game because of illness. His absence became a bigger story when word got out that Bell had gone bowling on the eve of the game -- only hours after being ruled out.
Coach Adam Gase wasn't happy that Bell was out instead of resting at home, but the running back laughed it off, noting he didn't break any team rules. Adding levity to the story, Bell bragged that he bowled a career-high 251 "off the flu."
Video of Bell's flu-game boast went viral.
After Thursday's game, Gase praised Bell, who has only 676 rushing yards and three touchdowns in 13 games.
"He had some good runs, and we were trying to match him up in the passing game," Gase said. "Earl [Thomas] was doing a good job of matching him up, and we kind of felt like there were two guys on him. ... Thomas is the type of guy that can make a lot of plays. They were on Le'Veon quick."
Bell could've helped the Jets in one of the game's pivotal moments -- a fourth-and-1 from the Ravens 7 in the second quarter -- but the $53 million running back didn't get the call. Curiously, Gase called a pass play, and Darnold threw incomplete to a well-covered Robby Anderson in the end zone.
Bell didn't question the playcall.
"Everyone has questions on fourth-and-1 when we don't get it," he said. "But when we get it, there's never any questions. I just feel like whatever play is called, we need to go out and execute."
The Jets followed up that blown opportunity with another. On their next possession, with the ball at the Baltimore 25, Darnold was intercepted by safety Chuck Clark. The Jets missed a chance to slice a 21-7 deficit. They never really threatened again, as the Ravens pulled away in the third quarter.
It was an uneven night for Darnold (18-for-32, 218 yards), who came out strong with the first of two touchdown passes to wide receiver Jamison Crowder but eventually was rattled by the Baltimore blitz. In addition to his costly interception, he fumbled on a strip sack.
Darnold has 14 turnovers (12 interceptions, two lost fumbles), which ranks ninth among quarterbacks. He also missed three games due to mononucleosis.
"There was a lot of good," Gase said of Darnold. "One of the things we asked of him was not to turn it over, but he had two turnovers."
In the offseason, the Jets expected the Darnold-Bell tandem to elevate the offense from mediocrity, but New York has scored more than 24 points just three times. This has been a frustrating season for Bell, who entered the game with a career-low 3.2 yards per carry.
He doesn't believe it's his fault, claiming this week he has been the victim of circumstances -- a patchwork offensive line and a lack of opportunities. He claimed he'll "be back to what people are used to seeing" once he gets a full workload.
Bell began the night with 143 rushes, 14th in the NFL. His previous single-game high with the Jets was 70 yards.