Dillon gets the tough yard

10-20-03, 6:30 a.m. Updated:
10-20-03, 11 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Remember when the Bengals couldn't convert twice on third-and-one in Buffalo in their last game?

Running back Corey Dillon wouldn't let it happen again Sunday, two weeks after he missed his only game in the last 52 because of an injured groin. He gained just 39 yards on 18 carries, his lowest figure when ever he has carried 18 times and there is general agreement that he appears to be still sore and that his offensive line needs to get timed up with him as well as block better. But Dillon's two vintage third-and-one conversions between the tackles provided a huge lift in the 34-26 victory.

"He's our heartbeat. He was a warrior today," said quarterback Jon Kitna.

His conversion set up his own two-yard touchdown run that put the Bengals ahead to stay, 14-7, with 4:11 left in the second quarter. The second one kept the clock going with 9:37 left in a game the Ravens tried to creep back in, and allowed the Bengals to burn four more minutes after he got it.

But by then, Dillon was on the sidelines resting the groin for next week.

"I told him on the sidelines that just his very presence makes us better," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "The other team is so aware of him. They try to stop him."

Dillon looked happy with the victory and joked with his mates after the game, but he declined at least one interview request. A month ago, he blamed the field for injuring his groin the last time the Bengals played here Sept. 21. There were no complaints after the field appeared to hold up this Sunday, its first game since being re-sodded with a clay base.

But Dillon is in a hole in his bid to become the fourth man to rush for 1,000 yards in his first seven seasons. With 203 yards after six games, he has to average 79.7 per game.

"We need time to get a rhythm with Corey," Anderson said. "You could tell in practice this week. We haven't been together for awhile. It's going to come. We're going to get there."

But even though the numbers weren't there, they were glad they had him.

"I think it gives the offensive line a little extra juice to see him back there," Kitna said.

His one play Kitna thought was 'huge," came on the last play of the third quarter, when he used Dillon as a safety valve out of the backfield. Dillon cut through a zone for 14 yards, and looked healthy enough to outrun middle linebacker Ray Lewis. But head coach Marvin Lewis said he got sore as the game went along and wanted to rest him.

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Bengals left outside linebacker Adrian Ross gained more yards than Ravens running back Jamal Lewis on the drive that resulted in Matt Stover's 25-yard field goal late in the third quarter that made it 27-10. Ross had 24 yards in penalties on back-to-back flags while Lewis had eight yards rushing.

Ross got 15 yards for roughing quarterback Kyle Boller and then on the next play was called for unnecessary roughness. Ross disputed both, claiming

he pulled off Boller in plenty of time. But since Boller was backpedaling, Ross couldn't see if Boller had pumped fake or let the ball go. But he got chided for extending his arms. Then on the next play, Ross claimed he was getting held by the Ravens fullback, and he insisted he was only trying to get his hand off him when he grabbed his arm and helmet. . .

One play on special teams Sunday summed up just exactly where the new regime is coming from. Head coach Marvin Lewis wanted Kyle Richardson as his new punter because he wanted consistency and knew what he could do under pressure. In his first game for the Bengals, Richardson responded with a 58-yard punt that is the tilt-the-field kick they've been seeking late in the first half. It put the ball on the Ravens 25 when the snap was from the Bengals 26.

Making the tackle on the play? Rookie wide receiver Kevin Walter, playing in his first NFL game just days after he got promoted from the practice squad in swapping places with rookie wide receiver Lawrence Hamilton.

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