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Messy Job Is Just Fine for Dillon

Times Staff Writer

In the sloppy, soupy, mucky mess that passed for the Gillette Stadium field Sunday, the New England Patriots beat Baltimore by using a recipe as easy as 1-2-3.

Namely, the 123 yards rushing by sledgehammer running back Corey Dillon, who time and again slammed into the Raven defensive front, grinding down its resolve and paving the way for a 24-3 victory.

“It’s getting to the point where it doesn’t surprise me anymore,” said quarterback Tom Brady, who handed off to Dillon 30 times. “It’s like the more you give it to him, the better he seems to do.... Corey’s so strong, he gets out there on the edge and whether he straight-arms guys or kind of dips inside them, he always seems like he’s gaining extra yards.”

Gaining ground on the Patriots (10-1), now that’s a real chore, especially when the conditions turn nasty. On this day, as a persistent drizzle evolved into a downpour, New England built a 9-3 lead with three field goals by weather-tested Adam Vinatieri, then let Dillon and the defense do the rest.

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The Patriots have won 17 consecutive home games, including the playoffs, have given up only 16 points in their last three at home, and haven’t surrendered a passing touchdown in their last four. In games played after Oct. 31, with Brady starting at quarterback, New England is 32-4.

“What I draw on is November and December, football in Foxboro,” linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “We really feel like it’s a different feeling for us. Once October ends and we get into November, we get in some home games, we get the weather bad like that. I love it. You breathe the air out there, and it’s like we ought to be playing at a higher level. That’s the feeling we get.”

It was Bruschi who made the biggest defensive play. Early in the fourth quarter, on the first play from scrimmage after Dillon scored on a one-yard touchdown run then blasted in for a two-point conversion, Bruschi got his hands on quarterback Kyle Boller. Not only did he sack Boller, but he stripped the ball from his grasp. The fumble squirted toward the end zone, where it was recovered for a touchdown by defensive end Jarvis Green.

That was curtains for the Ravens (7-4), who went into the game having won five of six.

Each team was flagged 10 times, and the Patriots might have notched a shutout but for two penalties on the same play at the end of the first half.

They gave Baltimore 30 yards of free territory on a punt return when Matt Chatham drew a 15-yard facemask penalty, and officials tacked on an extra 15 yards when Bruschi kicked the flag. That gave Baltimore the ball at the New England 16, and Matt Stover kicked a 22-yard field goal with two seconds left in the half.

Whereas the Patriots had their rock in Dillon, the Ravens were without theirs. Jamal Lewis sat out because of a severely sprained ankle he suffered in the Dallas game a week earlier. With last season’s rushing champion in street clothes, Baltimore’s offense was awfully pedestrian, amassing only 124 yards to New England’s 314.

The Ravens also lost the turnover battle, 2-0.

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“Clearly we weren’t a good enough football team today to come in and challenge a championship team,” Coach Brian Billick said.

With Dillon in their arsenal, the Patriots have the potential to be more dangerous than they have been in the last three seasons, when they won two Super Bowls. They acquired Dillon in an off-season trade with Cincinnati, giving up a second-round pick for a player some people branded a first-class headache. He had some huge games for the Bengals, but caused huge problems in the locker room, where he often brooded and complained.

For that reason, it was widely considered a risk when the Patriots brought him into the fold, seeing as their championships were built more on team chemistry than athletic superiority. So far, though, the Dillon experiment has worked beautifully. He’s happy, they’re happy.

“Dude, if you want to know about Corey Dillon, go hit on the Internet; I’m pretty sure you’ll find something,” he said. “My life story’s out there, so on that note there’s nothing new about me. But I’m here, I’m winning, I’m happy. It’s just that simple.”

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Although he said he’s unconcerned with racking up personal statistics, Dillon is setting some new standards for himself. His 100-yard game was his sixth of the season, a career high, and he surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in only his 10th game (he sat out one because of a thigh injury), achieving that milestone in the fewest games of any rusher in team history.

Dillon can certainly empathize with Philadelphia’s Terrell Owens, who has said he gets the feeling people are waiting for him to explode, to lose his cool the way he did in San Francisco.

“I know people are sniffing around,” Dillon said. “Waiting. Trying. Man, they’re going to be waiting for an eternity. It isn’t going to happen. I don’t care what happens. If anybody’s on that note, nah, buddy. Those days are gone. I ain’t got nothing to explode about.

“This is home for me. And I’m enjoying it.”

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