Dillon churns it out

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon said Sunday's conditions were miserable. Maybe the worst he's ever played in.

And he's got the numbers to back him up. Dillon came into the game with just two fumbles in his Bengals' season-record 282 carries. He fumbled twice Sunday on 17 carries and the Bengals lost both.

"Give me 80 degrees and that wouldn't have happened," Dillon said. "It's nine degrees out there and I'm numb in there trying to make it work. I can't make any excuses. It came out a few times."

But it didn't come out on his last two carries, a four-yard gain and then a cover-up carry for minus-1 to get kicker Neil Rackers on the field.

Both fumbles were key, but so were his steel-belted 76 yards in a skating rink against a top 10 defense ranked 12th against the run.

The only fumble Dillon lost this year came in his record-setting Oct. 22 game against the Broncos, when linebacker Bill Romanowski punched the ball out after a 19-yard run.

That's what happened at the end of Dillon's 12-yard burst during a scoreless game that pushed the ball to the Jacksonville 38 in the first quarter. Defensive end Tony Brackens did the honors.

"I'm warding off a corner and he's waiting for me on the back side," Dillon said. "It was one of those Romanowski plays and it came out. Things happen. I just had to stay focus and go to the next snap."

Dillon's fumble with 1:54 left in the first half at his 33 gave Jacksonville the only score of the half for a 7-0 lead. Dillon thinks Jags linebacker Kevin Hardy swiped at the ball and clipped Dillon's arm to force it.

Still, 76 yards in the Bengals' first win over Jacksonville in three years are big enough.

"I'll take it against that defense," said Dillon, within 104 yards of 1,500 for the season. "Right now, I'll take all I can get. They add up."

Dillon is impassive when it comes to his contract. Talks are apparently at full boil and the Bengals are saying they will keep him with a big dollar figure by signing him or matching someone else's offer.

"I've been promised a lot things in my life," Dillon said. "They're just words. . .(but) it makes me feel good they want to keep me around here. That's a step in the right direction."

GREAT SCOTT: If quarterback Scott Mitchell hadn't pulled off those last two drives, you can be sure there would have been a quarterback controvery for next week's finale in Philadelphia.

But what a last two drives. He was five of eight for 93 yards, and scored the tying touchdown on a heads-up scramble from 12 yards out with 75 seconds left in the game in which he shook off safety Mike Logan at the three-yard line.

Huge for a 32-year-old player who missed a game just three weeks ago because of a sprained knee.

"That was a fourth down play, wasn't it?" Mitchell asked. Told it was third down, Mitchell said, "Fourth down makes it so much more dramatic. In 20 years it will be fourth down."

So before the game's last two drives, Mitchell was just 5-for-14 for 78 yards, the kind of numbers that got Akili Smith benched.

But the big stats for quarterbacks are wins. If the Bengals win at Philadelphia next week, Mitchell will have won three of his five starts. He's not exactly Boomer Esiason, but it would conjure up memories of Esiason's 4-1 finish in '97. By the way, Esiason's only loss came in Philly.

"It was really good veteran leadership from all of our veteran players and some our younger players like (Peter Warrick's) punt return and Danny Farmer on that last drive," said coach Dick LeBeau.

" But for your quarterback to take the ball – he's not known for his broken field running _ but to scramble in there on third and (12), we didn't have enough timeouts to get the ball back so we had to get the (game) tied up there."

As he ran, Mitchell was thinking about getting stopped at the goal line last week in Tennessee after running for seven yards on fourth down.

"So I thought I'm just going to run over somebody no matter what happens," Mitchell said.

Mitchell admitted, "I had a hard time all day out there." It appeared his sprained left knee might be bothering him because he threw short several times, particularly on his lone interception. He underthrew Warrick on an intermediate route and Logan leaped to snare it.

But Mitchell said his knee was fine. It's just that he was playing in the coldest game of his life.

"In that situation, you have to put a little air under it," Mitchell said of the Logan play. "But with how cold it was, you do that and it's going to flutter. So I had to put some juice on it and the guy got it."

WEATHER CHANNEL: Thanks to a massive dip in temperatures and Sunday morning snow showers, the PBS grass took another pounding. Literally and figuratively.

The Jaguars were enraged before and after the game about a temporary Bermuda grass field that has been chewed up most of the year and is to be replaced next year.

The only lines visible on the white field were painted orange on the goal lines, end lines and sidelines, per NFL regulations if snow is on the field.

Bill Connelly, Bengals business manager, said the club didn't cover the field with a tarpaulin Friday because the paint on the field had yet to dry.

During Saturday's all-day rain, the Bengals and referee Jeff Triplette agreed a tarp wouldn't help and kept it uncovered. Plus, there was fear more damage would be caused when the weather froze and the tarp had to be dug out of the field

The drop in temperature came overnight. Connelly said the field's heating system didn't adjust to such a huge drop and didn't generate enough power to melt the snow.

ARMING TRADITION: It was a big day for right tackle Willie Anderson. First, he impressed people in and outside the locker room for playing Sunday despite not practicing all week with a sprained left knee.

And as Rackers' field goal sailed through the uprights, Anderson felt a jumble of emotions.

"I was thinking how it was our last home game and how much Coach LeBeau needed a win. All that ran through my mind," he said.

Plus, Anderson was able to take part in what has become a Bengals' offensive line tradition.

It started 19 years ago when guard Dave Lapham, now the Bengals' radio analyst, thought a good way to play mind games in the AFC championship game with the San Diego Chargers would be to play without sleeves in minus 59-degree wind chill.

"It worked. They were looking at us like we were nuts under their three layers and their ski masks," said Lapham after Sunday's game. "Today wasn't nearly as bad, but it was nippy out there."

In fact, it was the second coldest NFL game ever on the river, next to that Jan. 10, 1982 Freezer Bowl that put the Bengals in their first Super Bowl.

"We talked about it before the game. I think it goes back to that game in '82," Anderson said. "I don't know whose idea it was, but when you look around and half the line doesn't have them, you don't want to be the oddball.

"I saw (left tackle) John Jackson put on some elbow pads and so that helped," Anderson said.

Center Rich Braham played in plenty of snow at West Virginia, but he had never been this cold. Still, going sleeveless in extreme temperature is almost accepted now as what offensive lines do now.

"Jacksonville did it," Braham said. "We didn't know it was going to be that cold until we got out there, so maybe that was a good thing."

Braham was superb with no bad snaps, even on shotgun snaps. Not bad for a guy who on some occasions couldn't feel two or three of his fingers and wore a sleeve on his hands because he couldn't snap with gloves.

Anderson was asked how cold he thought it was for rookie receiver Danny Farmer, a California boy who had never seen snow until this week.

"Hey, it was cold for a guy from south Alabama," Anderson said. "Mobile."

Braham said the toughest moments were during the three instant replays viewed by the officials.

"The wind wouldn't stop," Braham said.

**

HAPPY BIRTHDAY:** Defensive captain Takeo Spikes, 24, is 2-0 in games on his birthday. The last time he played on Dec. 17, Washington County High School won the state title in Georgia.

Spikes got his second sack of the season on a rare blitz from the edge instead of up the middle.

"They did a check off at the line and we checked off on the defense when we saw their formation," Spikes said. "They didn't have enough guys over there to that side, so that's where I went."

**

REX RULES:** Bengals equipment manager Rob "Rex," Recker and assistant Jeff Brickner pulled out all the stops for Freezer Bowl II. Recker urged the bigger, longer cleats for his guys instead of the standard half-inch. Some wore ¾, but many wore the 5/8.

How busy was Recker?

"We went postal," Recker said. "Everybody needed everything. We cleaned it out. Hats. Jackets. Gloves. People were going crazy. We went through two boxes of hand warmers before 11 a.m."

Recker added to his growing legend by even helping out the referees. The crew showed up with virtually no protection against the elements, but Recker came through with long underwear for the stripes.

INJURY UPDATE: DT John Copeland left in the first half with a strained calf and is questionable for the finale. . . Don't expect RB Curtis Keaton (ankle) and MLB Adrian Ross (hand) to play in the finale. . . .CB Robert Bean (knee) inactive this week, is questionable against the Eagles.

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