FOXBORO – Facing a throng of reporters in the Patriots locker room Thursday night, Patriots running back Jeremy Hill was asked about the field-goal drive New England had just before halftime.
“It was a three-possession game at that point and that made it a two-possession game,” Hill said earnestly of the drive that narrowed the score to 17-3. “That put us right back in the game.”
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There were a couple of incongruous things here to observe.
First, it’s not just a preseason game but it’s the FIRST preseason game. It’s the tuneup di tutti tuneups. The score is usually a formality, at best.
But it was kind of endearing to hear Hill – a former Cincinnati Bengal – talking about whittling the Washington lead to two scores to bring the Patriots within striking distance in the second half.
Because to him, this game isn’t meaningless. At all.
“This is a blessing for me,” Hill said to me after the main crowd dispersed. “Being on [injured reserve after going under bone spur surgery] last year, having football taken away, words can’t even explain the feeling I have when I’m going out there.
“Watching every Sunday last year I kinda felt like I was on the outside looking in,” he admitted. “Being able to go out there and play, it’s a blessing. I’m excited about every opportunity.
Hill’s been pretty good so far for the Patriots since coming here in March on a one-year deal. The team asked him to slim down from 235 into the 220s and Hill said this week he’s at 226 – his lightest since high school. Thursday, Hill carried 11 times for 51 yards and a TD and got plenty of use on special teams (eight snaps, according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss).
He’s in competition with Mike Gillislee for the Patriots big back role and – while Gillislee had a decent enough game – Hill seems to have a bit more elusiveness than Gillislee.
The team shouldn’t have any worries about Hill competing with urgency.
“Coach just wanted us to play tougher,” he said when asked about the second-half flurry by the Patriots offense. "We were letting them get a lot of easy stops and he wanted us to play tougher and that paid off when we strung some long drives together. Just playing tougher was important.”
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Which brings us to the other incongruous aspect of Hill’s postgame. My guess is Hill has never in his professional life seen a media crowd like he did after last night’s game. Nor has he been in a more businesslike and professional atmosphere.
Having been to both camps and in both locker rooms, I can attest that Cincinnati under Marvin Lewis is worlds apart from New England under Bill Belichick.
When asked, Hill steered clear of comparisons but was willing to say that, “This place has done so much winning and being able to be a part of it, I’m definitely blessed and privileged to have this opportunity.”