'Clock-killin' Dillon' rushes for 144 yards
Dillon carried 23 times for 144 yards in his playoff debut Sunday to help the Patriots advance to the AFC championship game with a 20-3 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The only thing between them and a third conference title in four years are the Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat New England on Halloween when Dillon was out with a thigh injury.
"I'm certainly glad Corey's going to be there," quarterback Tom Brady said. "I know he's glad he's here; he's told us that a bunch of times. And we're glad to have him."
Dillon played the first seven years of his career with the woeful Bengals, racking up big yards but also admitting that year after year of losing got him down. Before the Patriots traded a second-round draft pick for him in April, Dillon had to convince them that he wasn't a malcontent.
"There's not a day goes by I don't grab those guys and say, 'Thank you,"' Dillon said. "I'm serious. They'll tell you, too. They're probably a little annoyed by me doing it.
"I do it just to let them know I appreciate them believing in me. I'm just ecstatic about being in this situation."
New England fans let him know the feeling is mutual, chanting, "Corey! Corey!" as the clock wound down. Dillon's teammates agree: Linebacker Ted Johnson said after the game he was heading to the souvenir stand to buy a No. 28 jersey.
One teammate needled him by calling him "Clock-killin' Dillon." Another led him into the locker room by telling the waiting reporters, "Here comes the man of the hour."
Dillon has been a model citizen since joining the defending Super Bowl champions. He's also given the Patriots the running game they lacked even as they won two NFL titles in the previous three seasons.
"Who wouldn't be excited about having a Pro Bowl player come to your offense. He came in and worked hard. He's a great leader and he's got a great attitude," Brady said.
"I don't care what someone's reputation is. When you come to this team, you fit in. Corey had a great attitude coming in, and it's just gotten better."
And so have the Patriots, who used him to replace the steady but unspectacular Antowain Smith.
Dillon ran for 1,635 yards during the regular season -- a career high, a franchise record and the third-most in the NFL. His 12 rushing touchdowns were also a personal best, as were his nine games this season with 100 yards or more.
But he could have done most of that in Cincinnati. What he really came to New England for was a game like Sunday's.
"He was excited. He probably had butterflies," fullback Patrick Pass said. "He wanted a taste of what we went through the past two out of three years."
With Dillon sharing the carries with Kevin Faulk, who ran 11 times for 56 yards on Sunday, the Patriots didn't have to rely on Brady as much while milking the clock with 14-, 15- and 16-play drives.
"I think he's really going to take the pressure off Tom," Pass said. "I just knew he would have a good game. He's our go-to guy."
Dillon didn't really get going until the end of the first quarter, when the Patriots took over at their own 16 and he ran on three consecutive plays to put the ball on the 36. The drive set up a field goal that gave the Patriots a 3-0 lead.
On their next possession, Dillon broke free for a 42-yard gain that gave them their only yardage of the drive before Vinatieri made it 6-0. Dillon ran six times for 26 yards to help set up the third-quarter touchdown that gave New England a 13-3 lead.
That gave the Patriots a lead to protect, and Dillon was just the one to do it.
Starting on their own 6 with 14:34 left in the game, the Patriots moved to the Colts 28 before Dillon ran into a pack, changed direction and then broke free around the left side. He dove at the pylon but was ruled out of bounds at the 1; Brady's sneak made it 20-3.
Dillon also led the Patriots with five catches, though they only went for seven yards.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press