- Michael Smith, NFL Senior Writer
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FOXBORO, Mass. -- Corey Dillon thinks it's funny.
"I get up and laugh," the Patriots running back said about playing for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Actually it isn't very funny at all. An offense with a two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player at quarterback and a six-time 1,000-yard rusher at running back is no joke.
With the Patriots' receiver corps depleted by injury, Dillon continues to pick up the slack. He picked up 105 yards and two touchdowns, including the clincher with two minutes left, on 23 carries in New England's 30-20 win over Seattle. It was his second 100-yard effort of the season. He's more than halfway to 1,000 yards (522) and the season isn't half over. At his pace, he'll run for a team-record 1,670 yards. That also would establish a career high.
It's really sad when you think about what could have been for Dillon. In his first six years in Cincinnati, he never had a quarterback worthy of backing up Tom Brady. Dillon almost never faced fewer than eight defenders in the box, yet he ran for 1,200 yards for four straight seasons. There is no doubt that if he had been on a better team, he'd be challenging the career rushing record.
He's never even played for a team with a winning record. He was reminded after Sunday's game that the Bengals went entire seasons without as many victories as the undefeated Patriots have (five).
"There were a few of those," Dillon agreed.
"God is good," he said. "God is very good. I just thank Him for giving me an opportunity to be in a different situation. I'm pretty sure he saw my struggles and my tears down there and answered. He put me in a totally different situation and in an organization where things are done the appropriate way. And I'm having fun."
More than before, it's no fun dealing with New England's offense. The Patriots haven't been this balanced since 2001, Antowain Smith's first year, or anywhere near this dangerous since Curtis Martin lined up behind Drew Bledsoe almost a decade ago. Not counting sacks or accounting for scrambles, three years ago the Patriots passed 482 times and ran 473 times. In 2002, the distribution was a whopping 605 to 395 in favor of the pass. Last year it was 537-473.
Through five games, New England has run 156 times and passed 143 times. Dillon was relieved to be joining a team for which he didn't have to be the guy, but he's been just that the past two weeks, each of which no fewer than two of the team's top five receivers have been sidelined. He gained 94 tough yards against Miami while Brady had his toughest day as a pro throwing the ball, finishing with just 76 yards.
The offseason trade that brought Dillon here truly was a win-win-win. The Bengals got rid of a player they didn't want and received a draft pick as compensation. The Patriots got a running game that commands respect. Dillon got to go someplace where the team is going places, like the playoffs. All the talk about how Dillon, a malcontent in Cincy, and the Patriots looked like an odd couple looks foolish now. They're great together. What would they have done had they gotten together sooner?
"He really gives us a real dimension offensively in terms of balance to be able to run the ball with power, to be able to make some yards outside," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "He's elusive out there and he can push the pile with a number of people. It's good to have him on the goal line in tough situations. He's good in the whole field. He keeps the defense honest when they're over pursuing."
Meanwhile, the defense can't cheat up the line of scrimmage, or else risk dying at the right hand of Brady. With more room to work than he's ever had, Dillon is averaging almost five yards per carry. He hasn't averaged more than 4.2 in three years.
"I haven't really seen too many eight-man fronts or safeties dropping down to stop the run," he said. "That tends to happen to teams that are one-dimensional. That's just a complement to our offense, that we're balanced. You try to take away one and we'll do the other."
Dillon isn't slowing down even though he'll turn 30 next Sunday. He's experiencing a renaissance.
"After last year, I rededicated myself to what I want to do and what I want to become," he said. "There was a lot of speculation out there, 'Oh, he can't do this. He can't do that.' Or, 'He's turning such and such.' It just gave me extra incentive to come in here and be the best I could be. And it makes it a lot easier when you're playing with guys like this."
"He's a very dependable player," said Brady, whose play fakes are commanding more respect these days. "You get the ball to him and he makes things happen."
The date April 19, 2004, could go down as one of the most important in Patriots' history. It's the day they made the Dillon trade happen.
Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com
1hEric D. Williams
1dBy Ian O'Connor