NFL Wire News

Hill makes difference in Bengals offense

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CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill is not only making a late push for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, he’s making history.

The 85-yard touchdown Hill ripped off Monday night in the 37-28 win against Denver was the fifth longest in franchise history, but it’s hard to imagine any of the four longer ones having great significance.

Hill’s 85-yard touchdown run came one play after Denver cornerback Aqib Talib intercepted Andy Dalton and returned the ball 33 yards for a touchdown that gave the Broncos a 7-0 lead just 4 minutes and 32 seconds into the game.

The run kick-started an impressive performance that put him in some elite company.

Hill finished with 147 yards on 22 carries, which — according to Stats LLC — makes him the third rookie in NFL history to have at least four games with 140 or more rushing yards. Eric Dickerson did it five times with the Los Angeles Rams in 1983, while Curtis Martin accomplished the feat four times with New England in 1995.

Hill also joins DeMarco Murray as the only backs with four or more 140-yard games this season, and he is the first player in Bengals history to do it.

And he became the first Cincinnati rookie to eclipse 1,000 yards (1,024) since Corey Dillon did it in 1997.

“It’s not something I’ll think about right now, but after the season I’ll look back on it and really appreciate,” Hill said of the 1,000-yard milestone. “Not too many people have gone over 1,000 in their rookie year, especially in the role I’ve been in. It’s really been a blessing.”

A blessing for him, and the Bengals, who appear poised to get over the playoff hump if they can keep running the ball like they have the last two weeks with 244 yards at Cleveland and 207 against Denver, which came into the game with the No. 1-ranked rushing defense in the league, allowing 71 yards per game.

“To hit that 200 mark today, I think we were a little disappointed,” Cincinnati left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “We wanted to go for 300 after that first half. We hit a couple of plays where, when people break down film, we’ll see they could’ve actually been house calls with one little play here or there. We had a chance to do it, and we didn’t do it.”

The last time the Bengals rushed for 200 yards in back-to-back games was in 2003 when they did it in three straight against Houston (240), Kansas City (200) and San Diego (210).

While the 85-yard touchdown was the fifth-longest run in Bengals annals, it was only the second longest of the season. Giovani Bernard went 89 yards for a touchdown in the Carolina game. Corey Dillon holds the franchise record with a 96-yarder in 2001, followed by Bernard, Paul Robinson (87 in 1968) and Essex Johnson (86 in 1971).

Hill’s accomplishments were tempered by a third-quarter fumble on first and goal at the 8, a mistake that led to the Broncos going on a 91-yard touchdown drive for a go-ahead score.

“I don’t know if they had the cameras on me on TV, but I beat myself up pretty bad about it,” Hill said. “It’s something I’m not used to doing. But it happened. I can’t change it. I just have to learn from it.”

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has said no matter how well Hill runs the ball, if he continues to fumble he will spend the game standing next to him on the sideline. And Lewis made good on that Monday night, at least for the first series after the fumble.

Whitworth took the turnover a little more in stride.

“Life of a rookie,” he said with a smirk. “He’s a fantastic football player, but he’s still a young kid and those things are going to happen. It’s not something you allow or permit, but he’ll get it fixed.”

REPORT CARD VS. BRONCOS

PASSING OFFENSE: C — The Bengals almost looked like they were playing scared in the passing game, rarely throwing anything more than 10 yards down the field. But you can’t really blame them after Dalton’s second pass of the game was high, bounced off A.J. Green’s hands and resulted in a pick-six for Denver cornerback Aqib Talib. With Green getting hurt on the play and being a non-factor the rest of the game and the running game carrying the load, there wasn’t much need to take risks. Two of Dalton’s longest attempts were throwaways on back-to-back plays that enabled Mike Nugent to come in and salvage three key points. Dalton only threw for 146 yards, lowering his average output in nine prime-time games to 193 yards, but he hit an efficient 65 percent of his passes and offset the pick with two touchdown strikes.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus — While putting up 207 rushing yards against the league’s No. 1-ranked run defense looks outstanding at first glimpse, but it was actually a little more grind than gash. Take away Jeremy Hill’s 85-yard touchdown — which was the fifth-longest run in franchise history — and the Bengals had 122 yards on 36 rushes for a more pedestrian 3.9 average. Hill had 22 yards on his other nine carries in the first half as there were a lot of negative- or no-yard rushes that put the offense off schedule. And Hill’s fumble on first-and-goal could have been a lethal mistake had the defense not saved the day. Still, it was an overwhelmingly strong performance overall.

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus — Yes, the Bengals picked off Peyton Manning four times, which in most cases would earn an A regardless of what else went on in the game. But let’s face it, that wasn’t vintage Manning on Monday as he’s clearly not 100 percent. And the rain didn’t do the 38 year old any favors either. But the Bengals set the tone from the jump when defensive end Wallace Gilberry popped Manning on his opening snap for the first of what would be eight hits on the quarterback. The Bengals also had two sacks on the night, and that constant pressure played as big of a role in Manning’s performance as his age or the weather.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus — The Bengals held the Broncos to 85 yards, marking the fifth time in the last six games they’ve held an opponent to that number or less. But Denver only ran the ball 19 times, so the 4.6-yard average wasn’t exactly glowing. With Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning slinging the ball 44 times, the Bengals were in their nickel package most of the night, and Denver running back C.J. Anderson was able to exploit that a couple of times, particularly on the final drive of the game when he ripped off a 27-yarder one play before Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick ended the game with his second interception.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus — Adam Jones was deserving of a game ball based on what he did in special teams alone with kickoff returns of 80 and 39 yards and a punt return of 21. The 80-yarder led to a touchdown and 39-yarder would have had Hill not lost a fumble at the Denver 8. Jones’ long punt return set up a Mike Nugent field goal, and Brandon Tate’s 49-yard punt return led to another Nugent field goal that gave the Bengals the lead for good at 30-28 midway through the fourth quarter. Nugent was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals, including a 49-yarder that tied his season high, to run his string of consecutive makes to 14. The only blemish on the night was the 77-yard return Denver’s Omar Bolden ripped off on the opening kick of the second half to set up a C.J. Anderson 1-yard touchdown.

COACHING: A — You have to think offensive coordinator Hue Jackson’s game plan was majorly affected by WR A.J. Green’s injury on the team’s fourth play of the game, so a lot of credit is deserved for adjusting on the fly. And defensive coordinator Paul Guenther did a great job of coming up with the scheme that enabled the Bengals to get all kinds of pressure on Peyton Manning, which he’s not used to, without completely selling out and leaving the team vulnerable against the run and long passes. And credit head coach Marvin Lewis for keeping the team focused and shutting out the noise for the second week in a row. Last week, the buzz was about the opponent with Johnny Manziel, and this week it was all about the Bengals’ failings in prime time. The Bengals rendered both of the topics moot in emphatic fashion.


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