Somehow, Dillon gains while Bengals lose

11-29-01, 11 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Has a running back ever run so far for a team that has stood so still?

"Not too many backs can say that, but that's a whole different story," says Corey Dillon, 52 yards from racking up his sixth straight 1,000-yard season with a sixth straight losing team. "I'm just trying to get to my No. 1 objective and that's getting to the Super Bowl."

He can join Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, and Curtis Martin as the only backs to rush for 1,000 yards in their first six seasons and they didn't come close in dealing with what Dillon has gone through in Cincinnati. In those six seasons, Dickerson never played on a losing team, Martin played on just one, and Sanders played on three. Sanders and Martin were each part of a 12-4 team, and Dickerson played on the 11-5 Rams in 1985. The group that Dillon could join played on a combined eight teams that won at least 10 games.

Dillon has played in just 25 victories, and he plays with an almost alarming viciousness. It's as if he's taking out those 66 losses of frustration on the other team.

"That's the amazing thing to me," says fullback Lorenzo Neal. "How does he keep producing those numbers?"

Linebacker Takeo Spikes wonders just how how big Dillon

would be if he didn't play on a perennial losing team in a small market.

"People know who he is now, but he'd be that much bigger if he played somewhere else," Spikes says.

He's not happy about a 25-66 record. In the past month, the volatile Dillon has appeared to reach a couple of breaking points over the losing. He has struggled mightily in coping with the three plays he didn't get into the end zone from the 1 the past two home games and has been looking at the two plays he scored on last week in Pittsburgh. Dillon ran in from the 2 and the 10 and says both plays were his bread-and-butter: Up the middle.

"If we had run the exact same plays, there would have been different results," he says.

What the results would be if Dillon were, say, on the 56-40 teams of Martin's first six seasons would be anyone's guess.

"It's a team concept and we've had to do it the hard way," Dillon says. "We've done it the old-fashioned way. We've earned it."

Down through the years, Bengals President Mike Brown has seen one common denominator in the best NFL running backs. He first saw it with Jim Brown in Cleveland and he sees it here with Dillon.

"Great pride," Brown said. "Look at how Corey plays and you can see it."

"I admire anyone who can go out there in those kind of conditions and play as hard and as well," Spikes says.

Dillon seems content to hone his game and continue to work on things that people say he can't do. This year, that seems to be catching the ball. He already has 30 catches and should easily pass his career-high of 34 set last year.

During a seven-on-seven drill in the Thanksgiving practice Thursday, Dillon made a nice one-handed pluck out of the air and, almost as quickly, whipped the ball to the side and jogged back to the huddle with a big smile saying, I'm done for the day. Done for the day."

"That's how it was on the back streets of Seattle, Washington," Dillon says. "It was all pavement. Everyone lined up as a wide receiver. There were no running backs. I'm just showing them that I can do some things. That I've got some other skills."

Back on the streets, Dillon never dreamed of running in such company. He's not going to start now.

"Never thought about it growing up and it hasn't really dawned on me now," Dillon says. "When it's all said and done, I'll sit back and reflect on things that happened. I really only want one thing and that's to go to the Super Bowl. I'm still on my hustle."

THUMBS DOWN: Michael Westbrook thinks the Bengals not only gave up on him, but also on quarterback Gus Frerotte.

"He played the (second) game with a bandage on this thumb and then they benched him," said Westbrook after he was cut Wednesday night.

Frerotte admits he had only one healthy half (in the opener) before

hurting the thumb and then getting benched in the second quarter.

"That was their excuse," Frerotte said. "And there were other situations in it for me that I couldn't control. (Tight end Matt) Schobel is playing a lot better now and when I was playing, we were using Levi (rookie left tackle Jones) as a tight end there. We couldn't do anything like that."

Frerotte played with Westbrook in Washington and the two spoke Wednesday night. The move didn't surprise either one.

"Once things went bad for him, he just gave up on it," Frerotte said. "He got frustrated and disappointed and wanted to change it, but it wasn't going to change. He was only getting so many plays a game and he sees himself playing every snap. He got frustrated with the rotation. If you don't want to be here, the best thing is to be gone."

Frerotte said Westbrook wasn't a cancer, "he just got away with a lot of stuff."

Frerotte wants to wait a few weeks before he talks about his own future, which looks to be elsewhere at the final gun in Buffalo.

GRASS GRADE: After the Bengals practiced on the Paul Brown Stadium grass Friday morning, stadium manager Eric Brown said there is a 90 percent chance the middle of the field will be re-sodded following Sunday's game for the last two home dates against Jacksonville Dec. 15 and New Orleans Dec. 22.

"It's better than what we played on last week in Pittsburgh," said wide receiver Chad Johnson. "If it stays the way it is, nice and dry, it should be fine."

Head coach Dick LeBeau usually doesn't put his team in the stadium for practice this late in the year, but he said he wanted his team "to get a feel for it," after not being on it for two weeks.

**

MATCHUPS:The Bengals are giving up 140 yards per game on the ground and if they have any shot Sunday,Bengals SS JoJuan Armour and FS Cory Hall* hve to keep *Ravens RB Jamal Lewis* in heck. Ditto for Bngals RB Corey Dillon vs. Ravns RILB Bernardo Harris.*

Bengals WR Chad Johnson sees if he has as much room with Ravens CB Chris McAlister back in the lineup. Bengals QB Jon Kitna has to be aware of rookie Ravens FS Ed Reed and Ravens QB Jeff Blake takes on the PBS crowd. Bengals WR Ron Dugans takes another shot at Ravens RB Lamont Brightful on special teams.

**

ARMOUR, HALL VS. LEWIS:** If the Bengals let Lewis run wild like they did three weeks ago (21 carries for 135 yards), they won't be able to get their offense on the field, Ravens quarterback Jeff Blake will kill them on play-action, and they won't be able to come back against a Baltimore defense that thrives on big plays with 19 takeaways, third best in the AFC. Hall and Armour have to help make the eight-yard gains just three and four.

DILLON VS. HARRIS: All-World middle linebacker Ray Lewis is out for the year and Dillon would like to add to the 102 yards he had against the Ray-less defense last time when the Bengals scored 27 points. Even with Lewis in there last December, Dillon had 127 yards and somehow the Bengals got no points. **

JOHNSON VS. MCALISTER:Johnson has the longest touchdown from scrimmage against the Ravens' defense this season on a 39-yard catch, but that came without McAlister in the lineup. He's missed the last three games and first of his career with a sprained ankle. Johnson is bidding to become the second Bengals' receiver in history to record four straight 100-yard games, and then he can start thinking about a NFL record of seven straight. Carl Pickens went for 188, 103, 132 and 105 in Games 10-13 in 1994.

KITNA VS. REED:Kitna has never gone three straight games without throwing an interception. He tried to do it in Baltimore last month, but Reed picked him off on the first series, and then picked him off again in the second half to end the Bengals' chance to rally. Guess what? Kitna hasn't thrown an interception since and is trying to go for three in a row again this Sunday.

BLAKE VS. PBS:** In the house that Blake Helped Build, he plays for the first time in front of the fan base he invigorated with his long-ball when he came out of nowhere in 1994, went to the Pro Bowl in 1995, and led the Bengals to their only non-losing record in the last 12 years in 1996. How will he and the fans react?

DUGANS VS. BRIGHTFUL: Ever since the rookie Brightful had his coming out party against the Bengals last month, he is averaging 26.1 yards per punt return and 21 yards per kick return. He returned the longest punt ever against the Bengals for 95 yards when the Ravens swallowed up Dugans in a serious double team. The Bengals have to help him, and they also have to keep an eye on Reed after he blocked his second punt of the season last week against the Titans. **

NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for this Sunday's game against the Ravens, including 336 and 12/5/99. The first number is how many days since the last Bengals' victory at Paul Brown Stadium, where they have yet to win a game this season. The Bengals have never gone through a winless season at home. Their latest first victory at home came on Dec. 5, 1999 in a 44-30 win over San Francisco in which Jeff Blake threw four touchdown passes.

33-52 _ Bengals' NFL worst non-expansion record at home in the past 10 seasons.

16-6 _ Bengals' home December record in the past 10 seasons.

3-2 _ Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau's December home record.

51-120 _ Bengals' NFL-worst record in the past 10 years.

19-23 _ Bengals' record in December past 10 years.

52 _ Yards Bengals running back Corey Dillon needs for sixth straight 1,000-yard season.

105 _ Yards per game Dillon has averaged in five December games at Paul Brown Stadium.

77 _ Yards Ravens running back Jamal Lewis needs for second 1,000-yard season.

3 _ Games Lewis has played against the Bengals, all 100-yarders.

15-1 _ Ravens' record when Lewis carries 20 or more times.

12 _ Players who have interceptions for the Ravens this season.

8 _ Interceptions by the Bengals this season.

370 _ Total yards the Bengals have averaged in last five games, first time since 1988 they have gained more than 350 yards in five straight games.

1-4, 26 _ Bengals' record and average points scored in past five games.

4-1, 34 _ Bengals' record and average points in '88 stretch.

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