12-24-03, 4:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
This is new thinking throughout Bengaldom and wide receiver Peter Warrick has clearly thought about it.
He wants to play Sunday in the regular-season finale against Cleveland. But he is listed as doubtful He also doesn't want to put so much stress on his surgically-repaired knee that he can't play in the first round of the playoffs, scheduled in 10 or 11 days at Paul Brown Stadium if they win and the Ravens lose this weekend.
"I would rather sit out this week, and hopefully Pittsburgh beats Baltimore," said Warrick, who expressed optimism that the Bengals can beat the Browns without him. "I have confidence in our taem. Hopefully they can win it without me. I wish I had played last Sunday."
Warrick, who is just five days removed from arthroscopic knee surgery, said he couldn't have played Wednesday. He didn't practice, but neither he or head coach Marvin Lewis ruled him our for the weekend.
"It's going to be a game-time situation. It's all going to boil down to me. How my mind is. When you're hurting, and it's in the back of your mind. Are you thinking about it? If it's just go play and not thinking about it, it will be all right."
Warrick missed just the second game of his 63-game career last Sunday in St. Louis and the Bengals missed him. Jon Kitna said two of the benchmarks that show how much the Bengals have improved over last season are their third-down percentage and touchdown percentage in the red zone. They are fourth in the NFL in third-down efficiency and are seventh in red-zone efficiency. Of Warrick's 75 career-high catches, 23 have come on third down, eighth best in the AFC. Four of his career-high seven touchdowns have come inside the 20 and one was from the 21.
"He's a big part of our plan in those situations," said quarterback Jon Kitna. "He's someone who has learned what defenses are trying to do."
CD FAREWELL?:** Corey Dillon didn't say good-bye Wednesday, but he sure didn't do anything to stop the speculation that Sunday is going to be the final Paul Brown Stadium appearance for the club's all-time leading rusher.
"You said that, I didn't say that," said Dillon, when told it sounds like he won't be back. "I'm ecstatic about this week. I can see the light. I'm focused on that light. It's going to come full circle in a little bit."
Injuries and illness to Dillon have given the Bengals a back-by-committee with Rudi Johnson. Dillon said his groin injury was more serious than the team let on, but that he has been healthy since the Nov. 23 victory over San Diego, his lone 100-yard game.
He said he spoke with Rams running back Marshall Faulk before last Sunday's game and he let it be known that he knows how Faulk got traded from the Colts to the Rams and "took his career to another dimension.
"He got a lot of the same press," said Dillon about how critics questioned Faulk before the trade. "And here he is going into his 10th season and he's still the man. (He) shed a little light on my situation. Got me back thirsty. He got on a different team, Super Bowl MVP, Super Bowl champ. . .Interesting. Interesting."
But Dillon said he's a team player, and will continue to do as asked Sunday and share responsibilities and carries with Johnson.
"We still have a shot to play next week," he said.