Dillon provides lift

10-20-03, 6:30 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, but his 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 first one 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 third 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.

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