Following an injury to Ryan Torain in the Broncos 34–30 comeback road victory over the Cleveland Browns, Hillis was named Denver's starting running back. His first start at the position netted him 44 yards and two touchdowns on only 10 carries as part of a 24–20 road victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Two weeks later, he recorded his first 100-yard rushing game with 129 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts in a 34–17 road victory over the New York Jets. The performance earned Hillis multiple honors including being named Diet Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week as well as FedEx Ground Player of the Week alongside Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler, who was named NFL Air Player of the Week. The string of victories and accolades built up anticipation among Broncos faithful for Hillis to continue as running back for the rest of the season. However, the season already plagued with running back injuries continued, with Hillis suffering a season-ending injury in a 24–17 home win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Coming down from an acrobatic catch of a Cutler pass with his right foot planted, Hillis was hit from both sides by Chiefs' free safety Jarrad Page and cornerback Brandon Carr. The hit doubled Hillis over, causing a 2–3 inch tear in his right hamstring behind the knee, which forced him to miss the rest of the season. Despite his limited playing time, Hillis ended the 2008 season as the Broncos' leading rusher with 343 yards and 5 touchdowns and was expected to return as a significant offensive presence for the 2009 season.
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