Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton celebrates a win over the Titans...

Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton celebrates a win over the Titans after an NFL divisional round playoff game on Jan. 22 in Nashville, Tenn. Credit: AP/Mark Humphrey

Mike Hilton lives for challenges. There may be none bigger than what the Bengals’ slot cornerback will face in the Super Bowl.

Hilton’s job on Sunday will be to try to do what few have done this season: contain Cooper Kupp.

The Rams’ star slot receiver was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year after amassing one of the greatest seasons ever. Kupp caught 145 passes for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns, the first receiver triple crown (leading the NFL in all three categories) since 2005. He has been just as unstoppable in the postseason with 25 catches for 386 yards and four touchdowns.

Hilton looks at this as another opportunity to prove people wrong.

"I know it’s going to be a big matchup between us both," he said. "Personally, I feel like we’re probably the best two slots in the game. What bigger stage to go out there and prove it? Me against him in the Super Bowl, can’t be a bigger moment."

Hilton signed a four-year deal with Cincinnati after spending the previous four seasons with AFC North rival Pittsburgh.

The 5-9 Hilton went undrafted out of Mississippi in 2016. He signed with the Jaguars as a rookie free agent and was cut in August. The Patriots signed Hilton to their practice squad and cut him a week later.

The Steelers signed him to their practice squad that December, but he didn’t play for them until 2018.

Hilton eventually established himself as one of the top nickel backs in the league, but he never lost the edge from being overlooked for so long.

"Always having a chip on my shoulder, always being told I’m too small, going undrafted and not being invited to the Combine," he said. "I might be five years into my career, but I still have that chip on my shoulder like I just walked in the building today.

"That’s something I thrive off of. I thrive off of proving people wrong, going out there and showing I might not look the part. But if you turn on the tape, I’m going to make plays, I’m going to be a leader, I’m going to be a guy that’s keeping guys energy up."

That will be critical against the Rams’ talented receiving corps, which also features Odell Beckham Jr. and Van Jefferson.

"Everyone knows me as a run- stopper and a guy that can get to the quarterback and make plays behind the line of scrimmage," Hilton said. "I’m just as confident in my coverage ability. I’m able to take the ball away, take out teams’ slot receivers and just do my part to help us win. I believe my all-around game is second to none."

Hilton has made big plays for the Bengals during this unexpected Super Bowl run.

He held Raiders leading receiver Hunter Renfrow to 58 yards and no touchdowns in the wild-card game. He intercepted Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the red zone on a slot blitz in the divisional round. Then he helped hold Tyreek Hill without a catch after halftime in the Bengals’ overtime win in the AFC Championship Game.

Hilton’s matchup with Kupp presents a difficult challenge. He’s one of the best route runners and knows how to get separation. Hilton said he notices some tendencies in Kupp’s game, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult trying to limit him.

"He’s just deceptive," Hilton said. "He’s a guy that knows how to switch tempos in the middle of his routes to slow DBs’ feet down or just make them hesitate for half a second. He can read defenses on the fly and [Matthew] Stafford trusts him. That’s his go-to guy."

Added Hilton, "I’m confident in what I can do."


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