Former Pittsburgh Steelers and current Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton talked about his experience playing in Super Bowl LVI against the Los Angeles Rams. This included the loss, the penalty calls, how the Bengals’ defense set up and how he will move on from this game going forward.
“We just didn’t make the plays when we needed to,” Hilton said on the loss. “We got some questionable calls if I’m going to be honest, but you know that’s the name of the game. We shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place when we had the opportunity to get off the field on third and fourth down.”
Hilton played four seasons for the Steelers from 2017-20 before signing a four-year, $24 million contract this offseason with the Bengals.
He was the Steelers top slot cornerback for most of the last two seasons and he made 20 starts over his four years in Pittsburgh. Hilton finished 2020 with eight tackles for loss, seven passes defended, three sacks, three interceptions and a forced fumble as one of the Steelers’ most-impactful defensive players.
Hilton originally joined the Steelers in December 2016 after being released by the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots in his undrafted rookie season out of Ole Miss. The 5-foot-9 cornerback beat out William Gay to be the Steelers’ starting nickelback to begin his first full season with the team in 2017, a role he never relinquished.
“Just keep playing ball,” Hilton said on what the defense was thinking on the last Rams’ drive. “Honestly they was letting us play all three quarters and when it got down to that fourth, they started, you know, being a little more flag happy, but it’s just the name of the game man. We just got to find ways to win.”
Hilton faced off with Rams wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr. in the first quarter in his own red zone. Beckham Jr. beat Hilton off and created separation, jumped up and caught the ball in the end zone for the first touchdown of the game.
— NFL (@NFL) February 13, 2022
“He was at three [point stance],” Hilton said about Beckham Jr.’s touchdown. “He ran a wheel route to kind of just pick me enough to get enough separation. I honestly feel like I was in good position. I got my hand in between his, but you know, he just made a strong contested catch.”
Beckham Jr. got injured on a non-contact play late in the second quarter, taking him out for the rest of the game. On Monday it was found that he had torn his ACL on the play, which changed the Rams’ offensive strategy going forward.
“It changed big time,” Hilton said about the Rams’ offense after Beckham Jr. was injured. “It changed for them offensively. As you can see, [Cooper] Kupp was a lot more outside than he was inside and they were just finding ways to get him the ball on quick passes instead of down field. But once Odell went down, we knew that all our focus would be on [No.] 10 and that’s what we expected.”
On the final Rams drive, the officials throw a flag on a third-and-goal play at the eight yard line with 1:44 remaining. The flag thrown was on Bengals linebacker Sam Hubbard for a hold on Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, which on replay, showed minimal contact, and could’ve given the Bengals a chance to win the game.
— AC 😷 (@ACinPhilly) February 14, 2022
“We just couldn’t make that play,” Hilton said on that final drive. “Like I said when they got inside our 10 [yard line] you know we went three straight incompletions on that third down then they just happened to throw that flag that kinda, kinda killed our momentum, but we just got to find ways to get off the field.
With the first down, the Rams now had a fresh set of downs to score the winning touchdown and did so, with a pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford to Kupp in the end zone.
IT’S BEEN COOPER KUPP ALL YEAR.
HE DOES IT AGAIN. #RamsHouse
— NFL (@NFL) February 14, 2022
“He’s just a great receiver, you know, Hilton said about Kupp. “He just knows how to get open and Stafford trusts him in crunch situations and he went to him a couple times on third down and he made some big time catches.”
“The last touchdown we were in zero coverage,” Hilton said on the coverage the defense was in on the touchdown catch. “He just made a great play. Eli [Apple] was in position, Stafford threw him a back shoulder. Good play, good catch.”
Cincinnati quarterback, Joe Burrow, was injured on a drive in the fourth quarter and went down holding his knee, grimacing in pain. Despite the apparent injury, Burrow stayed in the game and would unsuccessfully try to tie or win the game on the final Cincinnati drive.
“No, not at all,” Hilton says on whether Burrow should have come out of the game. “I trust Joe to take that drive for us every game of the year and he’ll be successful. But, you know, we came up short and it’s definitely tough, but we’ll be back.”
The Bengals had one of the best turnarounds in NFL history over these past two seasons. They finished 4-11-1 in the 2020-21 season and then won the AFC North this season with a 10-7 record and made it all the way to the Super Bowl. With Burrow at quarterback, and NFL Rookie of the year, Ja’Marr Chase at wide receiver, the Bengals may be a team that will contend for years to come.
“This is just a stepping stone for us,” Hilton said going forward. “Like I said, nobody expected us to be in this position and we knew with the guys and coaches we have in our locker room that we can compete for years to come. … Like I said it hurts, but it’s gonna stick in our minds and it’s just going to bring us back stronger for next year.”