CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Injuries have forced the Falcons to dig deep down their roster at the running back position, but they may have unearthed a gem.
Brian Hill began the season on the Falcons' practice squad, but he ran like a starter during the second half of Atlanta's 24-10 victory against the Carolina Panthers. A 60-yard run on the second-to-last play of the game highlighted an eight-carry, 115-yard outing for the second-year player.
"It was exciting," Hill said of his performance. "I was excited all week knowing I was going to get a chance to run the ball. I started out a little shaky out there, but I'm happy I could turn it around."
Hill broke free on his fourth carry of the game, which came on the final play of the third quarter. He found space an reversed field to pick up 21 yards, and Hill delivered a little extra pop to a Panthers defender as he went out of bound. After a short back and forth ensued, Hill was hit with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.
On his next carry, Hill ran through tackles and picked up 24 yards. Fully engulfed in momentum, Hill was getting a head full of steam on his fourth carry of the second half and attempted to hurdle a would-be tackler. Hill cleared the defender gracefully, but the ball popped out as he was in the air, resulting in a turnover.
Hill's 60-yard run helped him end the game on a positive note and gave the Falcons something to think about when it comes to their former fifth-round draft pick. It was somewhat an up-and-down afternoon for Hill, but the ups were certainly noteworthy.
"I thought he ran the ball really well," Matt Ryan said of Hill. "Between the tackle, really nice job, he was physical. He's a guy that has worked hard for us and finally has gotten his opportunity, and today he took advantage of that.
"Like all young players, he has a few things to clean up, and he'll do that. But his effort and the way that he ran was really good today."
The Falcons have struggled running the ball for much of the season, but they've begun to find their stride of late. After having topped 100 rushing yards just twice this season, the Falcons have now topped that mark in three straight games.
Atlanta's 194 rushing yards on Sunday was its second-highest total on the ground this season. Hill led the way, but Tevin Coleman gained 51 yards on 10 carries before leaving the game with a groin injury and even Mohamed Sanu pitched in with 29 yards on two carries.
The most notable change prior to that stretch was inserting Zane Beadles at right guard and Ty Sambrailo at right tackle. Many of Hill's biggest runs today came off the right side of the line.
Down the final quarter of this season Falcons coach Dan Quinn said his team was going to fight and go into every game with the mentality to win. Hill was the embodiment of that mentality on Sunday, fighting for every single yard and looking like a man who wants to earn a job.
"That kind of finish, that kind of effort is important," Quinn said. "We've got to do it with poise but having that kind of finish at the end it is part of our identity, our style and our toughness. That will always be the way that we want to attack."
The Falcons face the Carolina Panthers this Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. Get your inside look here.