11-17-03, 6:20 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Rudi Johnson has a new partner in a Bengals' running game that two weeks ago was struggling and is now officially terrorizing the NFL's best.
While Johnson took down the Chiefs by bursting for 79 of his 165 yards in the fourth quarter, Corey Dillon watched on the sidelines waiting to get unleashed next week in San Diego.
"I'm happy for Rudi he's doing great and I'm getting into a groove," said Dillon after rushing for 21 yards on six carries in only playing the first half. "The timetable is really for next week, so I'm just trying to get my game sharp. . .I knew mentally I wasn't going to play this much because my due-back date is next week anyway. So my whole mentality was just to come out here and see how would I hold up taking hits on it, seeing if could cut and this and that. I feel great.
"It's going to be a combo at this spot. He deserves to play, I deserve to play. I think we can make it ugly for some people. We got a chance at winning this thing. I don't care if I start or whatever. I just want make something happen."
Told that maybe the Bengals could unveil "The Jet," package from the James Brooks-and-anybody-else days, Dillon said, "Roll out that Bentley-Cadillac backfield."
The shovel that right tackle Willie Anderson brought into the locker room Sunday morning ended up not only symbolizing head coach Marvin Lewis' call for what they have to do the rest of the season, but also how they approached the running game.
"I'm happy the way we ran it," Anderson said. "It didn't come right away. We just kept hammering at it. We kept getting two, three, four, five, 10, 15. Just keep chopping away at it.
"Like Marvin says, three and four yards is a great play for us," Anderson said. "He wanted to keep it in third-and-five. He told us last night,. 'Keep it third-and-five, we'll win this game.'"
Johnson drove away in style in his fourth start again while Dillon recovers from an injured groin. After gaining a career-best 182 yards last week on a franchise-high 43 carries, Johnson showed he can bust the big play with 165 on 22 carries against the Chiefs. It's the best back-to-back effort since Dillon followed up his NFL-record 278 yards against Denver with 137 the next week in Cleveland in 2000.
Suddenly, Johnson has to just average 65.5 yards in the last six games to become the seventh Bengal to rush for 1,000 yards. And he's showing people he's not just four yards and a cloud of dust.
With the Bengals trying to kill the clock with 3:19 left and holding a five-point lead, Johnson broke off the longest run of his career, a 54-yard dash off right guard that was made possible when he spun away from a linebacker that tried to tackle him high.
But it was his three-yard run from the Chiefs 22 on third-and-three at the two-minute warning and the Chiefs having no timeouts left that he said he would remember on top of the 54-yarder. It also sums up what he has meant to this team.
He put down his head, bulled forward behind right guard Mike Goff and right tackle Willie Anderson, and willed the first down that ended the game.
Quarterback Jon Kitna saw that the Chiefs were going to attack the play with a corner blitz, but he handed it off anyway because he knew the smaller player wouldn't be able to handle Johnson.
"We run the play, get the first down, kneel three times, and that's it," Johnson said. "That's what we wanted to do. That's what Jon said in the huddle. Three yards. Simple as that.'
Johnson praised the right side and the lead block of rookie fullback Jeremi Johnson on the play, and if the running game is in fine fettle Monday morning Jeremi Johnson is a reason why.
Ironically, the Bengals head to San Diego this week to play Lorenzo Neal's Chargers. The Bengals wanted to keep their Pro Bowl fullback, but they also didn't want to give him $1 million up front like the Chargers did in free agency.
And, in Johnson, a fourth-rounder from Western Kentucky, they think they've got a more athletic guy who can do more things, as evidenced by the Bengals' first touchdown Sunday in which the 270-pound Johnson took a dump pass from Kitna, squared his shoulders, tiptoed down the sidelines, and finished off his 13-yard touchdown by leaping into the end zone and kicking the pylon.
Anderson brought in the shovel because Lewis' theme of the week was to keep the head down and keep working.
"We just have a big pile of coal, and we have to keep shoveling. At the end of the day, with your head down, it will be gone," Lewis said. "It doesn't matter, like I said about the scoreboard. Big Willie got the shovel (and handed it to me). ... We are just going to keep shoveling, just like a laborer. We know it is going to be a 60-minute labor every time we take the field."
Anderson corrected his coach on one thing. It's dirt, not coal.
"Dirt. There's no grass on that field," Anderson said. "It's terrible, man."
But the Bengals' game plan wasn't against a Chiefs' defense giving up 4.7 yards per rush, maybe their one nick in their unbeaten armor.
"We went in thinking if we could make it a physical game and make it a running game, anything could happen," Anderson said. "Not to make it passing game. That's what they thrive at. They haven't really had to sit there and hold ground, so we wanted to make it a physical ballgame."
Anderson said the game's big play from scrimmage, the 77-yard touchdown pass to Peter Warrick was a result of the Chiefs, "fearing the run. They came up," and left Warrick one-on-one with cornerback Eric Warfield.
Johnson also won his one-on-one-on battles in the line, busting away from missed tackles.
"We had a good mix of isos (isolation bocks), zone-blocking, and power plays," Johnson said. "Just keep the legs moving. The linebacker hit me high (on the 54-yard run), and I just kept the feet and legs moving, looked up, and saw (wide receiver) Chad Johnson blocking and tried to get behind him."
It was quite a day for Chad Johnson. He said he apologized to Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil before the game for his guarantee of a victory. But he had no apologies for his blocking, of which he is routinely encouraged to improve.
"Did you see my blocking downfield?" he asked. "It was good."
Dillon also apologized to the fans for his tirade last month in which he said he wouldn't mind being traded.
" " know I said some things people probably did not appreciate, and that's just me sometimes. Sometimes I speak too fast and don't think about what I'm saying," Dillon said. "I know the fans have supported me through a whole lot of stuff. One of the biggest things for me was coming back and trying to get accepted by them. They didn't throw any bricks at me (joking), so I felt pretty good. I expected the worst — I thought some beer bottles might be coming (my way). But I showed them that I care about them and I love them. What was said is what was said, and I apologize for it."
The franchise's all-time rusher also said he's ready and wiling to share the load.
"I don't need 48 carries or anything like that," Dillon said. "It doesn't take much to get me going."