The life of a rookie in the NFL is a fickle one. One minute Ronnie Hillman is getting plenty of playing time behind Knowshon Moreno. The next, a fumble at a crucial point of the football game and Hillman found himself firmly in John Fox's sideline dog house.
Hillman had 13 yards on 3 carries when he fumbled. Jacob Hester and Lance Ball combined to get 121 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown, many of those likely coming at the expense of Hillman. That begs to question, with Willis McGahee still a week away from returning(he can start practicing this week but can't return until the AFC Championship Game), will Hillman get a shot to redeem himself in next Saturday's Divisional Round game?
"I think at the end of the day, you're trying to do the right things", said Fox at today's media session. "It wasn't that [RB] Ronnie [Hillman] was intentionally trying to fumble, but the reality is, it happened. He'll learn from it. He'll get back. He'll get another opportunity to compete, starting Wednesday. Like all young players, they're going to make mistakes, like any players. Coaches make mistakes as well. At that point in time, it was a huge play. It was a huge swing in momentum. We had one player go down (T Orlando Franklin) and another guy (Manning) trying to become a safety that shouldn't be. Those things, mistakes breed mistakes, and you just try to limit them."
You get the sense that the latter portion of the quote above is what really torqued Fox and the Broncos. On the play, Peyton Manning likely made a touchdown-saving play to slow down Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers. Manning wasn't injured, but the fact that a guy who has undergone four neck surgeries is diving at anyone is enough to make Fox's heart skip a beat.
Add to that the fact that starting right guard Orlando Franklin was hurt on the play and it could have been a full-scale emergency for the Broncos. Luckily Franklin was able to return.
The Broncos are now in full-scale World Championship mode. All 53 men are being evaluated on a play-by-play basis, and mistakes at this point in the season could be the difference between going to the Super Bowl or going home.
Hillman's chance will come, but he may have to wait until much later in 2013 to get it.