On Sunday, NFL rookie running back Jeremy Hill ran like a Bengal Tiger.
The former LSU running back from Baton Rouge accounted for 165 yards from scrimmage to help the Cincinnati Bengals overpower the slumping New Orleans Saints 27-10 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Hill rushed for a career-high 152 yards on 27 carries and caught one pass for 13 yards, proving why the Bengals’ organization made him the 55th overall selection in the 2014 draft.
It is the most rushing yards against the Saints this season, eclipsing the 149 yards by Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray in Week 4.
Hill’s biggest contribution came right before halftime when it appeared both teams were content on heading to their locker rooms with the Bengals nursing a 10-3 lead.
Facing a second-and-12 from the Bengals’ 14 with 14 with seconds remaining, Hill found an open field after slipping free through the Saints’ defensive line.
As the final seconds ticked down, he finally went down in the clutches of Saints outside linebacker Kasim Edebali at the New Orleans’ 24.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis quickly called a timeout with one second remaining, enabling kicker Mike Nugent to come out and boot a 42-yard field goal as time expired for a 13-3 advantage.
The Saints never recovered, eventually losing by their largest margin in the Superdome since Week 11 of the 2004 season when the Denver Broncos administered a 34-13 defeat.
The 17-point spread equals the worst home loss during the Sean Payton era.
“I knew I didn’t have the speed to score, so I kind of straightened the guy up and peeked up at the clock,’’ Hill said. “It was right about four seconds when I saw it. Then, I knew I had to get down. I knew coach would be there to call timeout.
“That’s why you never kneel the ball in those type of situations because you never know what’s going to happen. You want to give yourself a chance. I don’t think the Saints were expecting it. To get three points right before half was huge. I think that was a huge momentum shift for the whole game.’’
Midway through the third quarter, Hill already had accounted for more yards from scrimmage than the 123 yards his college alma mater had produced in four quarters of a 17-0 road loss against Arkansas on Saturday night.
“That was painful to watch,’’ said Hill, one of nine LSU players drafted by NFL teams in April. “LSU has a very good football team. Obviously, they lost a lot of talent and it’s a rebuilding year. Just because of the program, people expect them to be on top all the time. They’re young; they’ll be fine.’’
Sunday’s game marked Hill’s first in the Superdome at any level of football. Bengals left tackle and former LSU standout Andrew Whitworth, a second-round selection by the Bengals in ’06, can count his games in the Superdome on two hands.
“It’s always a special for me to come back here and play,’’ said Whitworth, who starred at West Monroe High School.
“I won three state high school championships here at the Superdome (1997, ’98, ’00), a national championship here with LSU (’03), and we won here my rookie year with Cincinnati. So yeah, it’s always special.’’
None more special than for Hill, who had plenty of family and friends in attendance Sunday.
“A lot of people counted us out before the game, especially the way the Saints play at home,’’ said Hill, who has eclipsed the century mark in rushing in two of his three starts since replacing injured running back Giovani Bernard.
“We knew it would be a tough environment, and it was very tough just hearing the calls on third down. That was key for us: converting third downs today and keeping Drew Brees off the field.’’