A NEW ATTITUDE Upbeat Dillon is giving the Patriots a positive charge

Posted: February 01, 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The thicket of cameras, microphones and tape recorders formed a semicircular cage around him. And Corey Dillon, who admitted he liked interviews even less than being trapped in Cincinnati, sat there and smiled through questions long and short, personal and detached, pointed and idiotic.

"This is fun. Having an opportunity to play in a Super Bowl," said the Patriots running back, six days shy of his first, "it's just an awesome feeling."

In the last off-season, Dillon, labeled "Villain Dillon" during his long and complaint-filled career as a Bengal, at last won a reprieve from that dis-organization. For the discounted price of a second-round draft choice, the Super Bowl champion Patriots had the topflight runner they lacked.

"I thought all along that it would come down to Dallas or Oakland," Dillon said. "But when I found out that it was the Patriots . . . from there it was a no-brainer for me. I knew that I was going into a great situation, a great team."

While helping the Patriots earn a third trip to the Super Bowl in four years, Dillon has transformed himself. The label of troublemaker has, at last, been superseded by one of playmaker.

"People are going to view me how they want to view me," he said. "And the way I look at it, people didn't think Jesus was Jesus. So who am I? That's the kind of approach I take. Anybody can pass judgment on you if they don't know you."

He said coach Bill Belichick and his teammates didn't seem to judge him on his Cincinnati resume. There he had griped about playing time, the organization's commitment to winning, and much, much else.

"I knew what I had read about him," New England wide receiver Deion Branch said. "But those people calling him those things never knew him as a teammate. I told myself I would wait and decide for myself."

It didn't take the 30-year-old University of Washington product long to notice the difference between his old and new teams.

"I knew I wasn't in Cincinnati as soon as we won a couple of games in a row," Dillon said. "The difference was visible right off the bat, the way they prepared and worked hard in the weight room. I was like, 'This is going to be something special.' Everybody just works hard. ... We have a lot of veteran guys here that know how to play football. They've been there and they've done it."

Dillon carried the ball 345 times this season, accumulating a New England record of 1,635 yards as well as 12 touchdowns, in filling the defending Super Bowl champions' most notable shortcoming.

He averaged 109 yards for the 15 games he played and opened up the offense for quarterback Tom Brady and Branch. In New England's pair of playoff victories, over Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, he rushed 47 times for 217 yards and a touchdown.

"He's the best running back in the league," Brady said. "He's really been a great leader. You know, I don't care what someone's reputation is. You come to this team and you fit in. You can't help it. Corey had a great attitude coming in, and it's only gotten better."

In 2003, despite winning the Super Bowl, New England had the 27th-ranked rushing attack in the NFL. Brady threw the ball 55 percent of the time. This year, with Dillon, the Pats were seventh in rushing and the number of passing plays fell to 49 percent.

If the Patriots lead the Eagles on Sunday, you can be certain they will try to shorten the game with Dillon. "We call him clock-killin' Corey Dillon," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said.

When the clock ran out on Dillon's session, he stayed at his table, continuing to answer questions.

"This is unbelievable," he said. "It's like Hollywood. . . . It's Super Bowl weekend. I'm going to take it in stride and enjoy it."

Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

Dillon's NFL Story

Corey Dillon came to the Patriots from the Bengals for a second-round draft choice, the best bargain in the NFL since . . . Terrell Owens. In his only two career playoff games, wins over Indianapolis and Pittsburgh this season, he rushed 47 times for 217 yards. Dillon finished third in the league in rushing, 62 yards shy of the Jets' Curtis Martin, despite sitting out one regular-season game.

Regular Season

Year Team Att Yards Avg TDs

1997 Bengals 233 1,129 4.8 10

1998 Bengals 262 1,130 4.3 4

1999 Bengals 263 1,200 4.6 5

2000 Bengals 315 1,435 4.6 7

2001 Bengals 340 1,315 3.9 10

2002 Bengals 314 1,311 4.2 7

2003 Bengals 138 541 3.9 2

2004 Patriots 345 1,635 4.7 12

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