December 21, 2014

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Another positive chapter in Hillis’ Cleveland story

CLEVELAND — Peyton Hillis has added another chapter to his still-blossoming Cleveland legend.

The running back for whom the 2-6 Denver Broncos had no use co-starred with Browns quarterback and good pal Colt McCoy in the Browns’ shock­ing 34-14 win over the New England Patriots on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Hillis, who quickly became a fan favorite this season for his bruising running style, gained a career-high 184 yards on 29 carries, overcoming a first-quarter fumble as he was — what else? — fighting for extra yardage after a 16-yard gain.

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Even Patriots coach Bill Belichick — notorious for his postgame elusiveness — sought out Hillis to congratu­late him, and told Hillis he was a great player.

“To get a compliment from a great coach, it means some­thing,” said Hillis, whose pre­vious career high was 144 yards, in Week 4 against the Ravens. “(Sunday) was exactly the way football is supposed to be played.”

His running allowed the Browns to dominate posses­sion, key because New Eng­land quarterback Tom Brady for a while was rolling. Early in the second quarter, after a fumbled kickoff and three punts, the Patriots switched to a hurry-up offense, and Brady kicked it into high gear: Over the final 26 minutes of the first half, the three-time Super Bowl champion was 9-of-10 for 124 yards and a touch­down.

Yet Hillis — and the Browns’ 7-of-13 performance on third down — rendered Brady a spectator for good chunks of the afternoon, as Cleveland controlled the ball for 38:08, nearly 10 minutes above their season average.

“The more time you can keep Tom Brady off the field, the better off you are,” said Browns coach Eric Mangini, who couldn’t contain a smile throughout his postgame news conference. “Peyton does a good job of grinding down the defense.”

Drafted by Denver in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Hillis said he’s long had to overcome doubters — including some in his own family. So his trade to the Browns in March, which meant he had to prove himself to another set of eyes, was just another small bump in the road.

“No one gave us a shot three weeks ago,” Hillis said. “You have to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘What are we going to do today?’ People didn’t believe in me as an indi­vidual, even people in my own family. But you see what can happen.

“Throughout life, you have to prove people wrong. When you grow up and you have people telling you all the time, ‘you can’t do this; you can’t do that.’ Well, why can’t I do that? Anything’s possible. That’s what’s happening with this team right now.”

This year, he took over the Browns’ No. 1 tailback role in Week 3, and turned in two straight 100-yard games. Yet he injured his quad against Atlanta in Week 5, and since has struggled at times to get untracked at times. He said the Browns’ bye last week helped him heal.

On Sunday he averaged 6.3 yards per carry and scored twice, from 2 yards on the Browns’ second possession and 35 yards late in the fourth quarter to cap a drive in which he carried on all six Browns plays. On the latter drive, he wisely stayed in bounds twice on plays destined for the side­line.

“It all starts with (Hillis),” McCoy said. “The guy is a heck of a football player. He under­stands the game. Things like (staying in bounds) go unno­ticed. He fires up the offensive line, the sideline gets fired up and the fans get fired up.”

Hillis added three catches for 36 yards, including another brilliant diving catch along the sideline, reminiscent of his touchdown against Atlanta in Week 5 — on which he aggra­vated that quad injury and had trouble getting off the field in certain moments.

“This was disappointing,” said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo, who Hillis beat on a 29-yard, third-quarter pass from McCoy. “Coming in, we felt pretty good about our run defense and (Hillis) just came out with their offensive line and did a great job and ran the ball hard.”

Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or hammond_joel@yahoo.com.

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