BY GEOFF HOBSON
Running back Corey Dillon made history and prevented the Bengals from making history Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium as he led Cincinnati to a 24-13 victory over Arizona.
After watching Dillon rack up 216 of the Bengals' 292 rushing yards, the club's third most of all-time in a game, Bengals punter Daniel Pope shook his head at how Dillon commanded the badly chewed turf at PBS.
"If he had played on a good field," Pope said, "he could have had 400 yards."
The Bengals are using a temporary field of Bermuda grass because their bluegrass turf died in a drought this past summer while it was being grown in Baltimore.
In the ninth game of the season at the stadium, the turf died a slow death in big chunks of dirt.
"It was like feeding the hogs after a good rain shower," said Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes. "And the hogs are in the slop and they're just slopping around. It was like playing with the hogs."
And Dillon ran behind the hogs on the offensive line 35 times, second only to his 39 carries when he ran for 246 yards as a rookie against Tennessee.
Dillon's biggest runs came in the Bengals' last grinding drive, when he converted a third-and-six and fourth-and-two as the Bengals killed all but 1:02 of the game's final 8:27.
The ball-hogging drive chewed up 17 plays and with 1:02 left in the game produced a 32-yard field goal by a grateful Neil Rackers after he had missed two earlier in the game.
"That running back is a pretty good friend of mine right now," said Bengals coach Dick LeBeau. "We needed every yard of it. We kind of thought we should win this game
The Bengals are now 3-10 and are no longer in danger of winning only two games in a season for the first time ever.
A gutty Dillon broke two of James Brooks' club records with most career 100-yard games (18) and most rushing yards in a season Dillon as he looked to labor with a sore groin.
"It's smashmouth football with him," said Dillon of his friend LeBeau. "I'm more impressed with us fighting for 60 minutes and staying focused. It doesn't matter about yardage and it deals with us winning football games."
On fourth-and-two from the Arizona 31with 2:19 left in the game, the Cards hemmed Dillon in the backfield. But he felt his way to the left perimeter, kept his legs moving and bounced outside for the game-securing 13-yard run.
"He out-abilitied us around the corner," said Arizona coach Dave McGinnis.
Bengals cornerback Tom Carter set up the Rackers' kick when he stepped in front of wide receiver David Boston at the Cincinnati 7 for the killing interception with 8:27 left in the game.
The Bengals couldn't put away Arizona several times during a sloppy game on a sloppy field.
Boston fried the secondary on back-to-back passes of 33 and 38 yards, the last one a wide-open touchdown cutting Cincinnati's lead to 21-7 midway through the third quarter.
Then Arizona quarterback Jake Plummer found Boston beating cornerback Robert Bean for a 15-yard touchdown pass that made it 21-13 with 13:45 left in the game.
But football is a funny game. Bean got benched for Carter and the rest is history.
The Bengals couldn't cash an Arizona gift late in the third quarter when the Cards fumbled a punt deep in their own territory, but Rackers missed his second field-goal try of the day when he sliced a 45-yarder to the right.
Throw in a 32-yard field goal miss and an extra-point miss by Arizona kicker Cary Blanchard, and it was a bloopers tape in the making.
Dillon's one-yard touchdown with 46 seconds left in the first half capped a 13-play, 70-yard drive dominated by the run.
The Bengals ran the ball 11 times on the drive, so their two incomplete passes didn't hurt them.
And on third-and-6 from the Cards 9, Dillon converted for the first down, for eight yards behind the right side of the offensive line.
After picking up 12 yards on his first two carries of the second half, Dillon appeared to re-aggravate his groin injury and went to the bench
But it didn't matter as the NFL's No. 2 running attack in the NFL kept pounding the undersized right side of the Arizona defensive line.
Backup running back Brandon Bennett ripped of a pair of 14-yard gains before scoring from seven yards out to give the Bengals a 21-0 lead 3:26 in the second half.
Dillon, who set the NFL single-game rushing record on Oct. 22 with 278 yards, was almost halfway there at halftime.
Dillon finished the half just 44 yards shy of Brooks' club season record of 1,239 yards, and finished the game with 1,278.
Quarterback Scott Mitchell struggled in his first outing since he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee two weeks ago.
Mitchell hit seven of 14 passes for 47 yards in the first half and was intercepted by Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Williams when receiver Peter Warrick went long and Mitchell threw short.
Mitchell finished 11 of 23 for 109 yards, but he hit two big third-down passes in that last drive to tight end Tony McGee and Warrick.
The Bengals had the ball nearly seven minutes longer than Arizona in the first half and when they weren't in sync, the Cards were helpful. A third-down pass interference call on cornerback Corey Chavous kept alive the Bengals' second touchdown drive and Chavous was called for a hold on a punt return for a touchdown that would have put Arizona in a position to tie midway through the fourth quarter.
The Bengals missed a huge chance to put the struggling Arizona offense out of the game all day.
Take the second quarter and the Bengals leading, 7-0, Dillon ripped up the middle for an 18-yard touchdown run. But it was waved off when right guard Mike Goff was called for holding on Arizona strong safety Pat Tillman.
And the score stayed 7-0 when Rackers hooked a 36-yard field goal to the left, his seventh miss in 16 attempts.
Dillon went 57 yards the first time he touched the ball as Cincinnati jumped to a 7-0 lead on its first series of the game.
The Bengals' defense responded by holding the Cardinals to 56 total yards in the entire first quarter and punctuated their effort when defensive end Vaughn Booker and strong safety Chris Carter stuffed Cardinals running back Michael Pittman on a fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 34.
Dillon, who rushed for 73 yards in the first quarter, almost took it all the way right away.
Tillman prevented the touchdown when his diving tackle tripped up Dillon at the Cardinals 1.
Two plays later, Mitchell executed a play-action fake and found a wide-open McGee for a two-yard touchdown pass that was McGee's first touchdown of the season.