History, headache, heartbreak

12-2-02, 1:10 a.m. Updated:
12-2-02, 7:10 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

History. Headaches. Heartbreak.

All for Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon all on the same day. So what else is new in his starcrossed six-year career as the Bengals' meal ticket?

Dillon became the fourth man in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in his first six seasons on a seven-yard draw play late in the first half. He was also a key figure in the Bengals' two devastating turnovers that were a big part of the Ravens' 27-23 victory Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Dillon also found himself on the sidelines clearing out the cobwebs after a shot to the head on four of the Bengals' last five plays as they drove for the winning touchdown.

When the dust cleared, Dillon had just 70 yards on 23 carries and right tackle Willie Anderson asked for a summit between the offensive line and running backs to discuss a running game that has stalled the past two weeks.

"We're not on the same cue," Anderson said. "The offensive line and the running backs and the line coaches and the running backs coaches, we're on totally different

pages right now and that's why he's getting just 60, 70 yards and not going for 140."

Dillon had no comment after he joined the select company of Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, and Curtis Martin, but his euphoria couldn't have lasted very long after he ran the ball to the Baltimore 8 on the draw play for 1,000 and a first down with 37 seconds left in the first half.

Two plays later, Dillon went out for a pass near the goal line, and while he cut inside, quarterback Jon Kitna threw to the outside and nowhere near Dillon. It went right to rookie free safety Chad Williams. Williams went 98 yards for a touchdown after wrestling Kitna off his jersey, and the 14-point play took what would have been a 20-7 Bengal lead to a 14-13 Bengal deficit.

"You just don't let the quarterback tackle you, you've got to break it somehow," Williams said. "I wasn't thinking about 98 yards. I was just looking at Kitna. Then I saw he was over pursuing and I just cut behind him."

Kitna called it, "a very bad communication at a very bad time."

Then, with the Bengals driving for at least a field goal that would have given them a 26-21 lead with about 10 minutes left in the game, they faced a third-and-six from the Ravens 26. After Kitna did a play-action fake, he said Dillon knocked the ball from him in a fumble the Ravens recovered and cashed for the winning points five minutes later.

"Corey tried to skim around me to pick up his (pass) protection and he hit the ball with his shoulder," Kitna said.

The sledding for Dillon on the run wasn't much better against the Ravens. Twelve of his 23 carries went for two yards or less and that has Anderson worried.

"Running the ball is like synchronized swimming," Anderson said. "He has to be in tune with what we're doing and we have to be in tune with what he's doing. We may think there's a hole there and he may see something else. Or, he may not think there's a hole there and we may think there is. Overall, it's hurting us. We need to sit down in the meeting room and see exactly the heck is going on and why we're not being successful with the running game because it's killing us."

On that last drive, Dillon apparently took a shot to the head when he caught a three-yard pass over the middle to set up a fourth-and-one from the Ravens 15. Backup Rudi Johnson carried for two yards on the next play and then Kitna fired two passes to him while Dillon knelt on the sideline. Dillon returned for the fourth down play, but Kitna's pass to him at about the 2 got knocked down.

"He was woozy," said Bengals trainer Paul Sparling. "We checked him and when the symptoms cleared, he went back in."

**

BLOCKED PUNT:** No question, punter Nick Harris, said. Ravens rookie free safety Chad Williams' blocked punt for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter was the big play of the game. Just like it was 364 days ago against Tampa Bay on the same field when the Buccaneers blocked a punt for a touchdown in a 16-13 overtime win.

The names change, but the results are the same.

"That was my man. I just tried to do a little too much with him," said tight end Chris Edmonds. "I tried to

overphysical him instead of just dropping back and doing what I usually do and position block him."

The Ravens had nearly blocked Harris' previous kick from the other side, a hurried 16-yarder, and rookie free safety Ed Reed had blocked one the week before for a touchdown and he's got two this season. Williams lined up next to Reed on the right.

""That's just game plan — coming up and under and getting inside," Harris said. "And unfortunately, he just got a little too close. ... On the punt before that, they got really close, too. I think that excited them, so they really went for it on that one after that and they got it."

Edmonds said he wasn't surprised where Williams lined up even though Williams said, ""Ed Reed gets a lot of attention. Fortunately he's on my side, so they put two guys on him and I can go free. I just kind of got through and put my hands up."

Edmonds said that Williams, " went outside of me and inside of Reed, I just missed him. It wasn't difficult. It wasn't really a stunt. He just dipped his shoulder and I let him get by me."

NICE DRAFT: The Bengals' rookies did OK with left tackle Levi Jones part of a line that didn't allow Jon Kitna to get sacked by a defense that came into the game with 22 and tight end Matt Schobel had four catches.

But what about the Ravens' rookies? Sixth-round pick Chad Williams was the player of the game with a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown and a blocked field goal. Another sixth-round pick, running back Chester Taylor, had a killing play in the fourth quarter with a 16-yard catch on third-and-seven. And fourth-rounder Ron Johnson picked up the blocked punt for a 22-yard touchdown run. The Baltimore rookies finished off a hellacious sweep of the Bengals. Last month, first-rounder Ed Reed had two picks of Kitna and sixth-rounder Lamont Brightful returned the longest punt ever against a Bengals' team from 95 yards.

EXTRA BIG: Neil Rackers had an up-and-down day. He got another chance to convert his seventh straight field goal at the end of the first half when the Ravens were called for "leaping," on top of a teammate on his 55-yard miss to the left. He

then drilled the 40-yarder to give the Bengals a 16-14 half-time lead.

But it was his missed extra point (right upright) after the first touchdown that forced the Bengals to go for a touchdown at the end of the game instead of a tying field goal. Rackers had no comment, but Ravens kicker Matt Stover said the field was in choppy shape and that there was a tricky crosswind. Stover, who came into the game third in AFC percentage, missed two tries Sunday. He was short from 49 and pushed a 38-yarder left at the other end of the field from where Rackers missed the point and from the same direction Rackers made the field goal.

Punter Nick Harris, Rackers' holder, said, "The field has to be re-done." As he spoke, crews started re-sodding the middle of the field for the two final home games on Dec. 15 and Dec. 22, but it sounds like they could have used the extra grass a few hours earlier.

**

SLANTS AND POSTS:** Bengals RB Corey Dillon passed George Rogers into 33rd on the all-time rushing list with 7,227 yards. . .C Rich Braham couldn't go with his sore ankle and is probable for next week, as is KR Brandon Bennett after he couldn't play Sunday with his knee injury. Rookie FS Lamont Thompson, who strained his neck, is also probable. DE Vaughn Booker (rib cage) couldn't play and is questionable. . .For the first time in Sunny Delight Bowl history, the Bengals lost when the seventh- and eighth-graders took the field at halftime. Sunny Delight Bowl IV pitted the St. Mary's Cougars against the Fort Mitchell Spartans.

T.J.'s DAY: Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau raised some eyebrows when he stuck with wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh at punt returner even though he had fumbled in the fourth quarter of the last two games. LeBeau was rewarded when Houshmandzadeh scored the Bengals' first touchdown of the day and the first of his career on a four-yard crossing route.

"It gave me a big lift for the rest of the day," said Houshmandzadeh, who handled three punts flawlessly. "I've never concentrated so hard before on returning kicks in my life. (The touchdown) relaxed me. I was able to go out and say, 'OK, let's go. Let's play.'"

Houshmandzadeh said he sat in a zone on his touchdown, his first in two seasons, and 28 games. He

finished the day with four catches and now has 30 on the season. Wide receiver Ron Dugans' career-high seven catches and 81 yards means that the Bengals now have five players with at least 30 catches on the season. Running back Corey Dillon tied his career-high with six in a game, giving him a career-high 36 in a season.

"You know what the confidence builder was to keep it real?" Houshmandzadeh asked. "Just catching a punt and nothing going wrong. It's funny that I even think to say that, but the way the last two weeks have gone — just to know what I can do, even though I didn't do anything on punt returns — just to be sound and not to make a mistake just felt cool.

"It's my first touchdown since I've been playing — preseason, regular season, period. It's my first touchdown since college, so it felt good," Houshmandzadeh said. "I forgot how to act. I didn't know what to do. It's been a while so that felt real good because I've been playing for two years, and that's a long time to go without scoring a touchdown. It really did feel good to score, but we lost, so it's all for nothing."

Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson missed out on trying to become the first Bengals' receiver to have four straight 100-yard games when he finished with four catches for 78 yards. But his 35-yard grab racing past Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister marked the third time in the past four games he's caught a TD of at least 35 yards.

Johnson said it was one of only two routes all day that the Ravens left him in single coverage and from the second quarter on, all he saw was the Ravens'' two-deep zone that kept two players on him.

"You have to keep running the same route, the dig across the middle," Johnson said. "I caught two on those, but they took that away, too.

"It's frustrating, but if you play the double here, you've got the other threats and that's what they did," Johnson said. "(Bengals wide receivers) Pete (Warrick), T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) and (Ron) Dugans were killing them. They were singled up, and then they had to play everybody honest. That's when I was able to open up and get a touchdown."

In the first game since the release of wide receiver Michael Westbrook, Dugans came up huge. In the last drive, he caught a 15-yarder on fourth-and-seven. Back in the first quarter, he also had a leaping 31-yard catch to set up the first touchdown.

"If I get a chance," Dugans said, "I'm going to try and make something out of it out there."

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