Notes: Polian says Bengals had best team; Some advice for Hill; Two sides

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Former Giants running back Tiki Barber has some advice for Bengals running back Jeremy Hill

SAN FRANCISCO - One Hall-of-Fame evaluator said Thursday the NFL's best team isn't here at this Super Bowl.

ESPN's Bill Polian said the Bengals roster 'from top to bottom," was the NFL's best this past season.

"It's sad they didn't get beyond where they did. They had the best team, I think. When (Andy) Dalton got hurt, that was a terrible blow."

Polian praised director of player personnel Duke Tobin as well as head coach Marvin Lewis.

"Duke has done a great job scouting. Marvin and the coaches have a done a great job identifying what they want and what they need," he said. "They've got depth at every position. They do a terrific job."

He says they'll be back next season.

"Absolutely," Polian said. "Unfortunately, Pittsburgh is every bit as good when healthy. It's just a shame neither team was healthy at the end."

HILL ADVICE: The advice for star-crossed Bengals running back Jeremy Hill began coming at last week's Pro Bowl, when no less than NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson advised him to "just let it go."

And Thursday at the Super Bowl former Pro Bowl running backs turned media mavens Tiki Barber and LaDainian Tomlinson offered some counsel to Hill, the man whom fumbled away the Bengals' 16-15 lead over the Steelers in the final 1:32 of the 18-16 loss in the Wild Card Game.

" I know he probably feels terrible," said Peterson, who 12 hours after Hill's gaffe did the same thing and fumbled away Minnesota's fourth-quarter lead in a Wild Card loss to Seattle. "But no matter all that. He's just got to let it go. Yeah, I 've seen him and play and he's a good back."

Barber, a morning host for CBS Sports Radio, says it won't be a mental obstacle and he should know. From 2000-2003 Barber fumbled nine times in three of those seasons and eight in the other one before he figured it out and had the three best seasons of his career before retiring.

"We are what we repeatedly do. You can make mechanically correct a habit where you don't have to think about it," Barber said. "That's how I saved, really, my career."

Hill doesn't have the yips like Barber did. But five fumbles this year after a rookie year of three is trending the wrong way. And Barber never had one as devastating as this one. But he can relate.

"I feel for those guys. I've been there. I've done that," Barber said. "Not quite on the same stage like that we've seen, like Adrian Peterson also. But I've been there and I know the sinking feeling of letting a team down."

Barber says it comes down to simply the difference between perpendicular and vertical. He says Hill should only worry about the mechanical and not the psychological.

"A lot of people think its emotional or getting rid of the self-fulfilling prophecy of dropping the football," Barber said.  "But it's actually purely mechanical. Which means anyone can technically fix it. We're taught when we're young to hold the ball perpendicular to the ground. You actually need to hold it vertical to the ground. So when it gets pulled away from you, you can wrap yourself around the football as opposed to wrapping your arms around it, which still exposes it out the bottom."

Since the Bengals had the lead, they simply needed Hill to virtually fall on the ground and force the Steelers to use their timeouts. But when Hill tried to get extra yardage off of what was already a nice six-yard gain, linebacker Ryan Shazier ripped it out of there with both arms when Hill was vulnerable in the air.

But Barber says even falling down is an art.

"It's awareness of going to the ground. Which is the hardest thing for running backs to think about in a moment after contact," Barber said. "You think that extra yard. You reach; you get loose because you're learning how to fall. Learning how to fall while protecting the ball is the greatest way to prevent that from happening."

It got drilled well enough into Barber that in his final three seasons, from 2004-06, he fumbled only a total of nine times on the way to rampaging for a career-high 1,860 yards, as well as 1,662 and 1,518. All would be Bengals season records.

"It's just like a car. If your car is mechanically sound, you'll never have an issue," Barber said. "You can ride through any environment and know you're going to be safe. The same thing happens with carrying the football. If you go through contact with ball high and tight, perpendicular to your body and wrapped up, you don't have to worry about it and that's what I learned to do."

Tomlinson, destined to be a first ballot Hall-of Famer with 144 touchdowns, is more concerned about Hill's drop in yards per average than his fumbles. Hill dipped to 3.6 after averaging more than five yards per attempt as a rookie.

"You have to continue to be honest with yourself. What you need to work on. That's what I hope Jeremy Hill does this offseason," said Tomlinson, an NFL Network analyst. "Take a look at this past season and what he has to work and perfect his craft."

Tomlinson says Hill has "a lot of potential," a guy that can play 10-12" quality seasons in the league because of his 230-pound size. He says he doesn't think Hill is a serial fumbler, but he'd like to see him work on his patience and get better at knowing when to be patient and when to just go.

"You think of where football is today and look at the recent guys that have come out at the running back position," Tomlinson said. "Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon. These are bigger guys. Jeremy Hill. These are guys that can do it if need be for 20 carries a game.  Like it used to be."

SLANTS AND SCREENS:  Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones told NFL Network that he'll test free agency even though he wants to come back to Cincinnati. But that probably won't preclude the Bengals from approaching Jones and his agents before free agency opens March 9 in a bid to take him off the market . . . .

Well, if you thought there's going to be peace in our time between the Bengals and Steelers, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown pretty much shot that down Thursday when he lit up radio row. He called both WILL backer Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones "stupid," for their penalties at the end of the Wild Card Game that gave Pittsburgh the win. Burfict got called for hitting Brown in the head on a play Brown got a concussion and then missed the next week's loss to Denver.

Last week Jones said he thought he was 'cool," with Brown after he apologized for saying Brown was faking and would play against Denver.

But apparently not.

The Bengals thought Burfict was simply trying to break up a pass to Brown and not looking to hurt him. Head coach Marvin Lewis said the penalty was the right call but it didn't cross the line. And the NFL has admitted there should have been an off-setting penalty on Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter in the wake of Jones' unsportsmanlike penalty.

"It's unfair, unfortunately," Brown told NFL.com "But that is where I'm at now. Guys don't want to stop me, guys want to kill me and take me out of the game."

The Bengals lost their Pro Bowl wide receiver, A.J. Green, for the 2014 Wild Card Game to a concussion after a hit by Steelers safety Mike Mitchell the week before.

There certainly seem to be two sides to this thing.

NFL Players Association president Eric Winston, also a Bengals backup tackle, said after Thursday's NFLPA news conference that he likes the idea that Burfict's appeal of a three-game suspension for repeated offenses stemming from the Brown play will be heard by neutral arbiter.

"We have an obligation to take care of each other out there. We have rules and those rules have been well put forth," Winston said. "But that's why we have the neutral appeal process so that players can have their rights properly represented. We set up a neutral appeal where we can go in front of a former player that has played defense (former linebacker Derrick Brooks). If they see it a certain way, I'm sure they'll lessen it. As the union when you have both guys on each side of it, that's what we can do. Make sure each guy has their fair rights accounted for."

But Winston said there were a lot of other things going on in that game and he was particularly disturbed by two Steelers assistant coaches that were fined $10,000 each for 15-yard penalties.

"For whatever reason (those plays) haven't got the same notoriety that I thought were pretty bad and shouldn't have happened, either," Winston said. "Someone said, 'Put this game in context.' I said, 'When two coaches should have got personal fouls and nobody is talking about it, that let's you know there were a lot of things going on in that game.'

"I thought the penalties against (the coaches) were incredibly light," Winston said. "My problem with it is it almost seemed pre-meditated. If you're going out of your way to break the rules, what's with that light of a fine? Especially the Porter thing." . . .

Winston, by the way, says it's not a given he won't be back in Cincinnati at age 32. He said he had a good exit interview with the coaches and says, "I'm still having fun out there." . . .

NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders stood up for Adam Jones Thursday during a news conference. It was Sanders, the Hall-of-Fame cornerback who convinced his old Dallas secondary coach, Mike Zimmer, as well as head coach Marvin Lewis, to give Jones a shot with the Bengals in the spring of 2010. Jones went to his first Pro Bowl last week, but Sanders said he doesn't rank corners around the league. But he talked about Jones' wedding from a few summers ago, recalling that he calls Jones, "My son," and Jones calls him, "Pops."

"He's a good, kind-hearted human being. I know him away from the game," Sanders said. "I was at the wedding. I was one of his best men. What says a lot about Adam Jones is when he got married Marvin Lewis and many members of the coaching staff were there. They don't do that for just anyone. That lets you know who this kid is away from the game."

Sanders also says that while Jones had a good year, "He can do better in everything."

Hel also smiled and said, "He was in the weight room this morning. He just got back from the Pro Bowl yesterday and he was in the weight room this morning." . . .

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