BY GEOFF HOBSON
David Levine, one of Corey Dillon's new agents, was in town Sunday to watch his client take another run through the NFL record book.
Dillon, a free agent after the season, told skeptical reporters after the Bengals' 48-28 loss to the Steelers that he would, "love to stay," if a deal could be completed.
But indications are there have been no talks with Levine and the club as the meter ticks. Dillon became the eighth man in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in his first four seasons Sunday when he rushed for 128 yards on 23 carries.
The man they call "C.D.," now has 1,062 yards for the year, 178 yards from James Brooks' club record of 1,239 in 1989.
Why not? On Sunday he tied Brooks' club record of 17 career 100-yard games.
Why not? This season Dillon broke Walter Payton's NFL record of 278 yards in a game on the way to racking up the third most yards ever in back-to-back games with 415.
"I'd trade it all for a win," Dillon said. "The Lord has blessed me and if I keep going out working hard for Him, things like this are going to happen."
A week after Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor shredded Pittsburgh for 234 yards on 30 carries, Dillon ripped off a 20-yard touchdown run down the left sideline to give the Bengals a 14-14 tie early in the second quarter.
In Steelerland, word is the Pittsburgh staff dreaded Dillon more than Taylor because Dillon keeps coming at you no matter the score or the previous play and he proved it on the first series of the second half.
With Pittsburgh leading, 24-14, Dillon pounded out 31 yards on seven carries, the last four coming on a touchdown that pulled Cincinnati
At that point, Dillon had 113 yards on 16 carries. But the score (the Steelers jacked the lead to 10 again three minutes later) and the Pittsburgh defense caught up to him.
On his last seven carries, Pittsburgh held Dillon to 15 yards.
Taylor had destroyed Pittsburgh by going outside and then cutting back in. The Bengals responded by stretching their running plays wider than usual, and Dillon had some success cutting back.
But, "I'm pretty sure the film of Jacksonville saw them getting creased on the cutbacks," Dillon said. "They had a linebacker who was kind of slow flowing on the back side to eliminate the cutbacks. They game planned it, but we went out and executed."
Dillon said the Bengals keyed off old friend Kimo von Oelhoffen, the former Bengal now the Steelers' nose tackle.
"Whatever way he was tilted," Dillon said. "If he was tilted in the inside, it was going to stay onside. If he was tilted onside, they had a tendency to cut back. We were just taking advantage of the opportunities."
But when the Steelers got up 10 with 6:16 left in the third quarter, the running game was doomed.
"Once they were up, they were bringing their dogs," Dillon said. "There's nothing much I could do about it. They were bringing their safeties up and everything."
Footnote: Steeler running back Jerome Bettis also got his 1,000 yards Sunday for the seventh time in his career. He didn't get his ninth 100-yard game against the Bengals, but his 93 yards on Dillon's 23 carries gave him 1,019 yards. Bettis seemed to understand Dillon has 43 more yards than him on 34 fewer carries.
"He's a great running back," Bettis said of Dillon. "He does a great job in that situation. Their passing game is similar to ours in that it is not producing a lot of yardage."
BENNETT BRANDS STEELERS AGAIN:** It was also quite a day for Dillon's backup, Brandon Bennett. Bennett carried five times for 55 yards, including the longest run of his career.
That was a 37-yard run down the right sideline that put the Bengals on the board, just 2:02 after Kordell Stewart opened Pittsburgh's scoring with a 34-yard pass to Hines Ward.
"When you play behind a great back like Corey, you like to take a load off him and it's a plus when you do well," said Bennett, who spelled Dillon's record day against Denver with a 19-yard touchdown run.
"That was just a power run off tackle," Bennett said. "I had the easy part. I just ran."
He got a fine kick-out block from right guard Mike Goff and noticed someone else working down field.
"Peter Warrick, " said Bennett of the rookie receiver. "A great block. These receivers are young, but they like to block. They're getting the gist of what we're trying to do."
Bennett likes working against the Steelers. In 1998, he set the club record for running backs for receiving yards in a game with 119 in Pittsburgh. But since he missed all last year with reconstructive knee surgery, "I'm only 1-3 against them. I'd like to change that."
Bennett's knee looks as good as new, but it's a reason he runs so hard: "I've been on the other side. Any play could be my last one."
With fullback Clif Groce (knee) and running back Curtis Keaton (ankle) not active, the Bengals dressed just three backs. They still sat Dillon for the last two drives of the game and at times ran fullback Nick Williams at running back behind tight end Steve Bush.
"I could see that," Bennett said. "(Dillon) is beat up, it's late in the year, it was getting out of hand. Save him."
Williams had 16 yards on five carries as the Bengals dented the Steelers for 209 yards rushing, second this season only to the 407 against Denver.
FARMER'S DAY: Bengals rookie receiver Danny Farmer didn't want to say much, but he had to be pleased about his team-leading 59 yards on three catches that included a career-long 21-yarder.
Farmer was a fourth-round pick of the Steelers before getting whacked on Cutdown Day. The Bengals picked him up off waivers the next day.
Farmer had a chance to re-visit a training camp skirmish with Steelers cornerback Chad Scott and Scott got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his troubles.
"I went out to block him and he picked up some dirt and threw it at me," Farmer said. "We had a little scuffle in training camp. It's no big deal. I don't think what he did was very nice, but it's just two guys playing hard, trying to do their best and help their teams."
Warrick had two catches for 20 yards in the game's first dozen minutes, and one for five more yards the rest of the way. But Farmer said the Steelers didn't always double co ver Warrick.
"They mixed it up and a couple of times I was able to take what the defense gave me," Farmer said.
BIG PLAYS:** The Bengals secondary continues to be the victim of big passes.
Steeler quarterback Kordell Stewart hit receiver Hines Ward with a 34-yard touchdown pass just 2:54 into the game as Ward sliced inside cornerback Rodney Heath into an uncovered middle of the end zone.
Stewart struck again later in the game when he saw wide receiver Bobby Shaw one-on-one with strong safety Cory Hall down the left sideline and floated it to the inside as Shaw cut in for a 45-yard touchdown pass.
On the first play, Heath said he had a breakdown in communication. On that particular alignment, Heath would take away the inside because the Bengals play a zone. But with Ward tightening up his split, free safety Darryl Williams was out of the middle of the field as Heath scrambled to Ward's outside in anticipation of a possible toss sweep. But Ward shot inside to an empty middle.
Stewart said later he sent Shaw in motion with orders to stop and turn if Hall gave him a cushion, or run by him if he pressed. Hall pressed and Shaw won.
Still, Hall had a big day. His fourth sack of the season tied him with Barney Bussey (1988) and Sam Shade (1997) for most sacks by a Bengals defensive back.
NO PRESSURE:** Of course, the fact that Hall, a safety only on passing downs, leads the team with four sacks is Exhibit A of the club's need for a big-time pass rusher.
The Bengals, who had just four sacks in the previous four games, had four against the Steelers Sunday to tie a season-high from the second game. Those are the only two games the Bengals have had more than two sacks, but it seemed like they couldn't get them at key times against the Steelers as Stewart was 6-for-9 for 92 yards and two touchdowns on third down.
Asked how the lack of pressure hurts coverage, Heath said, "Sometimes it's like playing seven-on-seven, but that's how you become great. That's our job. This is a team thing, so you can't point fingers."
Or, as nose tackle Oliver Gibson said, "It goes hand in hand. Yeah, I'd like to see a pass broken up, but we can't put our safeties and corners in bad situations."
Defensive end Vaughn Booker has 13 career sacks, but still seeks his first as a Bengal.
"We're making it tough on our DBs," Booker said. "It's not all their fault."
THIS AND THAT: Bengals outside linebacker Steve Foley bruised his sternum and didn't play in the second half. He underwent tests Sunday night. . . .
LeBeau was not pleased with the three fumbled punt returns and indicated changes. Craig Yeast had a horrid fumble at his own 30 in a 14-14 game and coming on the heels of the Bengals' first defensive stop of the game.
Yeast waved his teammates off a low, short punt, then picked it up at the last instant and got popped.
Warrick tried to force his second return of the season when he ran up on a low line drive. But it was too low and he couldn't pick it up and fumbled.
Rookie cornerback Mark Roman saved him with the recovery. The ever hustling Roman saved Yeast later in the game when he botched another and Roman got it back.
"We're going to take a good look at that," LeBeau said. "We're going to have somebody back there that can catch the ball."