Imagine for a moment having professional football players unnaturally bending your body like a pretzel. Perhaps this is the daily risk of a running back, who has two instinctual priorities: Stay on your feet and don't lose the football.
With 5:54 remaining in the first quarter, Hill confidently powered his way for six yards through a mass of humanity, easily converting a second-and-five into a first down. Yet, he was still on his feet. Manti Te'o wrapped Hill from behind, pulling him backward while trapping his leg underneath. While that was happening, the football was exposed and Donald Butler yanked the football away from Hill.
It's the type of situation where a knee undergoes so much pressure, stress and awkwardness that a ligament could snap. It's difficult to fault Hill, who may have developed more concern with protecting his knee. Unfortunately this allowed an opportunist like Donald Butler to play the role of Gollum, reclaiming his precious from those evil Bengals running backseseses.
Let's not put this on Hill. At the end of the day, you're clearly more grateful for his health after this scare than you are annoyed with any perceived carelessness. The turnover didn't impact the final score and eventually Cincinnati's defense claimed their own turnover on San Diego's ensuing possession. Despite the violence of football, these tackles are uncommon and if the price is focusing an abundance of concern on protecting your knee (a player's most precious commodity), you're going to live with that during a mid-September game against the Chargers.
The second fumble, however, was all on Hill.
"Jeremy's been a running back his entire life, so he understands taking care of the football is of utmost [importance]," head coach Marvin Lewis said during Monday's press conference. "You can't have the ball stripped, and the second one is easy -- catch the football before you run. That is junior high school teaching there."
With 7:53 remaining in the third quarter, Andy Dalton pitched the football to his running back. Unable to secure the pitch, Hill juggled the football before Chargers defensive back Jimmy Wilson recovered the football.
There was no contact and the pitch was expertly delivered into Hill's hands. We could argue the element of concentration was lacking, sure. Regardless, this was a self-inflicted wound that Cincinnati's coaching staff has zero patience for. Again, thankfully the turnover didn't impact Cincinnati because San Diego's field goal kicker Josh Lambo pushed a 47-yard attempt wide left. Due to a combination of Giovani Bernard warming up and Hill's entry into the unacknowledged doghouse, this would be the last time Cincinnati's primary back would see the field on Sunday.
"You could definitely start saying it's an issue," Hill said. "I can be happy and in denial about it, but it's definitely become an issue and it has to get fixed."
"If you're going to turn the ball over too many times, you can't play," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said via ESPN. "That's with any of our guys. It's just the way it goes. I'll still be lenient maybe with other guys. I don't want anybody to hold me to the standing of saying, 'OK, well he just turned it over, too. You better get him out.' No, there's a process to it. I know what it looks like and what it feels like and Coach Lewis does, too. When we make that decision we make it and move on."
Following Cincinnati's 24-19 win over the Chargers, Hill braved a complimentary face toward Bernard while confidently applying a closer's mentality that Sunday's negativity won't leak beyond Week 2. "We complement each other well, with two polar opposite styles of running. Anytime we can both get going, it's very good for our offense," Hill said on Sunday.
Bernard posted 123 yards against the Chargers, his second career 100-yard performance, with 66 yards coming in the fourth quarter.
"I'm going to keep pounding. I can't let this (the fumbles) affect me," Hill said. "I'm going to do my thing. I'm just going to be me. That stuff is behind me now. It is what it is. We all know what happened, and it'll get us beat in another game. I've just got to continue to get better."
If there's a long-term worry about Hill, don't bank too much of that investment. Obviously it's natural to express concern for a player with 18 career games and seven fumbles (four lost) over two years. With less than 20 career games, he's a kid entering the third week of his second season. Granted, coaches shouldn't need to explain why it's important to secure the football.
The week is over. Hill says he'll practice on Wednesday, further lessoning concern about his knee. While Jackson has moved on to the next game, Lewis is acting more like a disappointed father.
"Jeremy will be fine," Lewis said. "He will get back at it and earn our trust as it goes. But we can't have the ball on the ground."