Jeremy Hill: Playoff fumble is 'elephant in room' but won't define career

Jeremy Hill scored 11 TDs last season, but many will only remember his fumble in the fourth quarter of the Bengals' playoff loss to the Steelers. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

CINCINNATI -- Jeremy Hill knows that wherever he shows his face in Cincinnati these days, the people who encounter him really only want to ask one question.

Why couldn't you have just kept your hands on the football a little longer as your Cincinnati Bengals tried to finish off the wild-card playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers?

"It's still the elephant in the room any time I walk in somewhere," the Bengals running back said. "So you can't outrun it. You can't run away from that."

Although he immediately expressed remorse for his costly fumble with 1 minute, 36 seconds remaining in the playoff game, Hill spoke to reporters Monday for the first time this offseason. This time, remorse wasn't the theme of his conversation. But moving on was.

"I've overcome some tough obstacles in my life, and that play, as big as it is, and as big as that moment was for our city and our team, that's not the hardest thing I've had to go through in my life," Hill said during the 20-minute interview session. "It's just adversity in my career, and I can let that play define me, or I can move past it and be the player this organization and this team knows I can be."

One of the NFL's top rookies in 2014, Hill rushed for 1,124 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry in his first year. Last season, though, he gained only 794 yards on the ground and averaged just 3.6 yards. He also had 11 rushing touchdowns, but most will only remember his 2015 season for the fumble.

Just after Hill's fumble, the Bengals' comeback disappeared and their hopes at winning their first playoff game in 25 years fizzled. On Pittsburgh's ensuing possession, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers into fringe field-goal territory before a pair of 15-yard Bengals penalties on an incomplete pass pushed Pittsburgh even further downfield. The 30 yards of penalties set up a 35-yard field goal that lifted the Steelers to an 18-16 win in the closing seconds.

From tweets to commercials to NFL-centric television shows, Hill has not been able to ignore images of his fumble. He's watched so many clips showing him mic'd up, screaming in anguish right after the fumble that he's "lost count."

"You know it's going to be everywhere. So you've just got to embrace it as a professional and as a man," Hill said. "Like I say, football, there's life lessons every day. You can have problems and you can fall short and you can run from them, and it's going to catch up to you. You've just got to take it head on and take care of it and move forward. That's what I'm going to do."

Hill, who trained in Cincinnati this offseason, said he has yet to be greeted with any negative comments from Bengals fans since the playoff loss. He expected far more backlash instead of the wide-ranging support he's received.

One of the first people to reach out after the playoff game was Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, who told Hill to not let this play define his career.

"I know who I am as a runner and as an athlete and as a player," Hill said. "I definitely can't let that play define me."