12-16-01, 10:00 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
EAST RUTHERORD, N.J. _ Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon lowered his head here late in the third quarter at Giants Stadium Sunday and did what he is getting paid nearly $13 million this season to do.
He pushed and bulled and pounded and converted a third-and-one with a five-yard run on what should have been the Bengals' winning touchdown drive.
It was on that same run that Dillon became just the sixth man in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons. But all the money and all the records were as empty for him as the Bengals' sixth straight loss in an odd, 15-14 conglomeration in the gloaming of the Meadowlands that included two injured quarterbacks and a fourth-quarter collapse.
All Dillon did was score both Cincinnati touchdowns on hellacious second-effort runs and lead the Bengals in both rushing (85 yards) and receiving (32) , and all he had to show for it was frustration and a dislocated right pinky finger that won't keep him out of next week's game in Baltimore.
"It's just not rewarding. All the effort, all the fight, all the hits, all the licks," Dillon vented after it was over. "For what? At the end of the season, what do I have to feel good about? Nothing at all. It's not cool. A lot of other people feel that way."
More than a dozen million dollars and 1,000 yards and Dillon could care less. His big, sad eyes gazed at the media contingent and asked, "What are we? Four and nine?" He shook his head.
"I'm baffled, too," said Dillon of his fifth straight losing season to match his 1,000-yard seasons. "I want answers and I don't know if I'm going to get them. I can't take too many of these seasons. This is getting out of control. One. Two. But not five. It's getting a little bit out of hand.
"I don't have an alternative," said Dillon, who signed a five-year deal in May to match the seasons and the yards. "I'm here. I'll make the best of it. We have to turn it around, point blank. I don't know what we're going to do in the offseason to get there, but we got to do something and I don't know where to start. You guys are looking for answers. I'm looking for answers. Everybody is looking for answers. When you find out, let me know."
Captains Willie Anderson and Takeo Spikes went to Bengals President Mike Brown to endorse head coach Dick LeBeau at about this time last year. Dillon doesn't see himself as the kind of guy who is going to offer opinions to the man upstairs.
"Nobody is bringing me in here to try and figure out what's going on upstairs, downstairs, in the bathroom. That's not my job," Dillon said. "My job is to come in here and run hard and try to make plays. That's all I can do."
That's all he did Sunday. That's all he did in the third-quarter drive. He took a pass for 17 yards and on the next play ripped off a 20-yard run, his longest since Oct. 28. He coaxed the five-yarder on third-and-one to give him 1,000, caught a seven-yard pass over the middle to convert a third-and-5, and then scored from three yards out.
For the third straight game, Dillon hit what is supposed to be the magic mark of 22 carries and the Bengals still lost. He's wondering what more he has to do.
"I can't catch every ball. I can't make every play," Dillon said. Reminded he has signed on for the long haul, he said, "You don't even want to know that answer. I made that commitment. I've got to live with that commitment. Until that commitment is over, I'm going to go out and do that job."
But Dillon didn't hide the fact he would like Brown and the Bengals to make some kind of changes.
"It's old," Dillon said. "Something has to change. I'm not trying to be negative. But I've been here five years. If I can't speak my mind. . .I'm
busting my butt, everybody is busting their butt trying to win games and come out short five years in a row, that's not cool. It's sickening."
Dillon said, "you can't change somebody who doesn't want to change, it's just that simple, regardless of who it is," but he didn't want to come off as taking shots at Brown.
"Some people think differently than others. That's the way it is," Dillon said. "You can't force anybody to do things your way or see things your way. Some people think differently than others. That's the way it is. I'm saying no names, I'm pointing to no group. I'm just talking about how the world functions. Can't change anybody unless they want to. I'm not the man you need to be asking."
The man who needs to be asked, Brown, said Dillon isn't the only frustrated person around Paul Brown Stadium. Brown said he realizes some things need to get fixed, but as his custom, he didn't delve into off-season issues during the season.
"None of us enjoy losing week after week," Brown said after the game. "Corey doesn't, the other players don't, the coaches don't. I don't. We have to battle on because we did what we did. All we can do something about now is the future.
"I understand why Corey is frustrated," Brown said. "We have this one to wrap up and suddenly we unravel ourselves. It was disappointing."
And Dillon is the definition of disappointment. He finished with 117 total yards and as many questions.
"When you find out," Dillon said, "let me know."