Le'Veon Bell hyperextends knee

— -- PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers received a major scare on the way to winning their first AFC North title since 2010.

Running back Le'Veon Bell left the Steelers' 27-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night in the third quarter after taking a direct shot on his right knee and did not return.

Coach Mike Tomlin said after the Steelers finished 11-5 and secured the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs that Bell hyperextended his knee and did not appear to suffer a serious injury. Bell was one of the last people out of the Steelers locker room, and he had his right knee wrapped in ice and walked slowly to a cart that took him to the players' parking lot at Heinz Field.

Bell did not have a brace on his injured knee or walk with the aid of crutches, though it is too early to tell whether the Steelers' 2014 MVP will be able to play Saturday night when the Baltimore Ravens visit Heinz Field for an AFC wild-card game.

"We'll gather more significant information as we proceed through the week," Tomlin said. "We're thankful that it's not anything major."

Bell clutched his right knee after Bengals safety Reggie Nelson cut him down following a 19-yard catch, and a hush fell over Heinz Field. Bell stayed down for several minutes before jogging off the field.

After the game, Tomlin and Nelson jawed at one another and had to be separated by Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.

Tomlin said a misunderstanding led to the heated exchange and that he did not have a problem with Nelson or what the eighth-year coach called a "legal play."

"I guess a teammate told him that I said something regarding him," Tomlin said. "That's untrue. Ask him. I have a lot of respect for Reggie Nelson. He's a good player."

Nelson rebuffed repeated inquiries about his exchange with Tomlin after the game but said his hit on Bell was a "football play."

The Steelers seemed to be in agreement even though the injury to Bell clouds their situation at running back less than a week before they meet the Ravens for the third time this season.

"Unfortunately, that's the way the game's being played these days because guys are so afraid to get fined," Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell said. "I don't think that was a dirty play. Obviously, it was extremely unfortunate. No one wants to see Le'Veon get hit on the knee when he's not looking, but that's the NFL that we play in today. It's a tough situation for everyone involved, referees included."

Bell finished the regular season as the AFC's leading rusher (1,361), and his emergence led the Steelers to waive LeGarrette Blount last month after the latter left the field before the Steelers' 27-24 win at Tennessee on Nov. 17.

Dri Archer and Josh Harris are the only other running backs on the Steelers' 53-man roster, and each is a rookie. Harris had a 59-yard run in the fourth quarter wiped out by a holding penalty.

"To see that flag come out late was extremely frustrating," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after throwing for 317 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals. "But I think he has to be pleased with how he ran the ball, and I think everyone has renewed confidence in him as well."

Roethlisberger said he did not get a chance to talk to Bell after the game but he is optimistic the second-year man will be able to play against the Ravens.

"I know if there is a chance he can be out there he's going to be," Roethlisberger said, "because that's how he is."

ESPN Bengals reporter Coley Harvey contributed to this story.