By: Bob George/BosSports.net
February 25, 2005

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Next in a series of positional analysis of the 2004 New England Patriots. Today: running backs.

Who knows. Maybe Madieu Williams will go on to become the next Ken Riley. Or the next Lemar Parrish. Maybe even the next Solomon Wilcots.

Williams is the player chosen by the Cincinnati Bengals with the second round pick obtained from the Patriots in exchange for one Corey Dillon. Disgusted in and with Cincinnati and anything Bengal, he chose instead to become a disciple of Paul Revere and not Gunther Gebel-Williams. The lasting image of Dillon in Cincinnati will always be him tossing his gear into the stands after the 2003 season finale, yelling "I'd rather flip burgers at McDonald's than play for the Bengals!"¯ on his way out the door.

Meanwhile, Patriot Nation wasn't quite sure how to take the trade. Yeah, they get a huge upgrade at a position ruled for three years by Antowain Smith. But they get a high maintenance guy who is perhaps a clubhouse cancer, a grouch and an uncoachable ingrate. Why in the world would Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli take a chance on a player with this kind of negative reputation despite his stellar numbers put up while playing for an annually rotten team?

All year long, Dillon had to answer questions regarding his attitude in Cincinnati. And all year long, he patiently replied. He never snapped on anyone, and he never gave a grumpy or impolite answer. He took it all in, looking a little annoyed on occasion, but he likely took the attitude questions as a given as he moved over to the world champs from the world chumps.

Dillon came to Foxborough to win. He helped the Patriots ring up their second straight 17-2 record and their second straight Vince. His first injury absence of the season was the game which broke the 21-game win streak. His teammates love him, and he loves everything Patriot back a thousand times over.

This is just a four-sentence summary of what Dillon's initial Patriot campaign was like. We're going to try and keep this to a 5-minute read, but you could write a short story on what Dillon has meant to the Patriots, and what the Patriots have meant to him. Dillon played so well in 2004 that his trade might go down as the finest in team history, or at least the best since the Jim Plunkett trade in 1976.

Let's first talk numbers. Dillon set a personal high and a Patriot franchise record with 1,635 yards rushing. Had Dillon been able to play in the October 31 loss at Pittsburgh and managed at least 63 yards rushing, he would have been the NFL rushing champ. His 4.7 yards per carry is second best in his career behind his rookie season of 1998. His 109 yard per game average was best among running backs who played at least 15 games. And it is very significant that Dillon's absence in the Pittsburgh game contributed to the loss (it can be argued also that Deion Branch's absence was also very detrimental), as the team (Kevin Faulk, Cedric Cobbs) combined for only five yards on six carries.

Numbers do matter, but in this case they are only part of the story. What Dillon meant to the team matters perhaps even more, amplified by his past reputation in Cincinnati and all that he wasn't in Foxborough, in addition to all that he was.

What wasn't he? Angry. Disliked. Lazy. Petulant. Uncoachable.

What was he? Hard working. Gracious. Happy. Grateful. Liberated.

And after the win in Super Bowl XXXIX? Teary-eyed.

Tom Brady was one of the first to recognize Dillon's eagerness to fit in. He immediately praised his weight room manner and zeal. He had nothing but high praise for Dillon and his work ethic. Other players chimed in later on with praise for him, and it was Tedy Bruschi who coined the name "Clock killin' Corey Dillon"¯, which sums up Dillon's season pretty succinctly.

The best example of this was the Divisional round game against Indianapolis. Dillon single-handedly put the Colts to sleep in the fourth quarter, gaining 56 yards on eight carries. Those eight carries helped consume 11:23 of the final quarter. If this isn't "clock killin'"¯, someone please explain what is.

Dillon gave the Patriots a dimension the previous champions never had. It's rare when you have a twice-in-three-years champ, and they acquire one player who makes them tons better than the previous champs. Everyone knew what Dillon was capable of, and he delivered on all his promises. And he did it with dignity and class, something which left Cincinnati as dumbfounded (as well as exasperated) as Cleveland must still be when they see the success their former head coach continues to enjoy in Foxborough.

When the Patriots nailed down their playoff berth against Dillon's old team at home on December 12th, Belichick called the team together for their "bring it up"¯ postgame pep talk (you'll see this on Three Games To Glory III, we assume). The coach held up the game ball and said "Corey! Corey! Come over here!"¯ Dillon assumes front and center. Belichick continues: "Corey, I have one question for you: Have you ever been in the playoffs?"¯ Dillon smiles and says "No!"¯ Belichick smiles and says "Well Corey, you're in the playoffs!"¯ and hands him the game ball. The players break out in cheers, Dillon breaks out in tears. This scene sums up what Dillon has meant to the team better than any nickname or any 1,635 yards can.

Dillon helped Faulk have a good year. He had the second best yard average (4.7, same as Dillon) in his career, and caught 26 passes for 248 yards. Faulk's raw numbers are low because he played in only 11 games in 2004, but Dillon's presence helped take the burden off of Faulk and allowed him to concentrate on his specialties, being the third down back and the "changeup"¯ back for Dillon. Faulk remains the one player on the club drafted by Bobby Grier, but he has marked the time and proven his true value to the team in his supporting role.

Despite some derogatory flak thrown his way from the book Patriot Reign by Michael Holley, Patrick Pass continues to stick around as the fullback. His versatility, especially on special teams, helps him stick. With Charlie Weis departing as offensive coordinator, it will be interesting to see how the fullback position is treated in the future, as Weis generally downplayed the fullback role in his offense.

The jury is still out on Cedric Cobbs, who was injured for a good chunk of the year after being put on the PUP list in training camp. Cobbs is seen by some as the replacement for Dillon when his time in Foxborough is up. Rabih Abdullah doesn't figure to be a long-term fixture; he was picked up to help the team when Dillon and Faulk were both hurt.

Will Dillon be around a long time? You'll find very few people in New England who wouldn't want that to happen.

And you'll probably find fewer people in the Queen City who would never have let Dillon leave their fair city in the first place.

Next installment: receivers.


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