By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
For Peyton Hillis, this has mostly been a season to forget.
Controversy, injury, and illness conspired to erase much of the good feeling that had resonated from his breakout performance of 2010.
But in the past two weeks, Hillis has managed to do his part to at least repair some of the damage caused by a still-unresolved contract dispute that left hard feelings in its wake.
Hillis isn’t talking about his contract anymore. He is allowing his play to do the bulk of the talking for him.
And in the past two weeks, Hillis has looked very much like the running back who ran for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He has looked every bit like the player whose local and national popularity for being a consistently tough, physical, and punishing runner landed him on the cover of Madden NFL 12.
The first indication that Hillis was finally recovered from a hamstring issue that heavily contributed to his missed six games was the 99-yard rushing effort he had against Arizona in Week 15.
Hillis’ 112-yard outing against the Ravens Saturday was important for reasons beyond the fact it was the first time this season that he hit the century mark.
For one thing, it came against what had been the NFL’s second-ranked defense against the run. It came against one of the bigger, stronger, and most physical defensive fronts in the league. And it came on the Ravens’ home field.
From the very start of the game, Hillis and the rest of the Browns’ offense imposed their will on a team that isn’t used to being pushed around. Finesse had almost no part in the Browns’ game plan. The Browns set out to use a sledgehammer on a Ravens defense that only a few games earlier had limited Hillis to a mere 35 yards while Ray Rice trampled the Browns for 204.
And Hillis was exactly that, repeatedly slamming his way through the middle of the Ravens’ defense. He and his blockers generally found little resistance from standout tackle Haloti Ngata and legendary middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Lewis finished the game with 10 tackles, but he and other raven defenders usually didn’t get Hillis to the ground until he was well past the line of scrimmage. In many cases, Hillis was carrying multiple defenders with him.
For the second week in a row, Hillis displayed the second, third, and even fourth effort that became his endearing trademark last season.
After the game, he said all of the right things. He talked about loving the Browns, about wanting to do great things for the team, about loving the game he has played since he was five, about not liking anyone doubting that.
But Hillis’ more powerful statement is being made through his play.
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