October 01, 2006
Game Needs To Be About Dillon, Not Johnson
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
CINCINNATI -- Maybe Chad Johnson will take Bill Engvall’s advice some day.
Not so with Johnson. As can and should be expected, Johnson was running smack as only he can this week, calling out the entire Patriot secondary, with special emphasis on Rodney Harrison. Mindful of what Freddie Mitchell did two seasons ago in the Super Bowl, Harrison and all his mates (even Bill Belichick himself) took Johnson’s comments in stride and called him “playful”, among other polite things.
Unlike Mitchell, Johnson can back up his trash talk. And unlike Mitchell, Johnson was perhaps being as playful as the Patriot players say he was. Johnson, who sports gold teeth and a gold Mohawk, is definitely one of the best wide receivers in the business, though Harrison facetiously points out that Mitchell was better.
Still, Johnson probably “shoulda shut up”. Because the game on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium between the 3-0 Bengals and the 2-1 Patriots could perhaps have very little to do with Johnson. Or rather, he could become a footnote to the real potential star of the game, someone with enough incentive and enough drive to render Johnson literally faceless.
Sound impossible? Render Chad Johnson faceless?
Mention the name Corey Dillon in Cincinnati and see what reaction you will get. Dillon, who has already received two frosty receptions in preseason games in 2004 and 2005 at PBS, makes his regular season debut as an enemy back in the crib he used to call home. The fallout from his celebrated departure from these parts is more than enough to make everyone out there pay less attention to ol’ Goldteeth and put the spotlight where it belongs.
On Corey Dillon.
This right here is the key to a Patriot win, if they can pull it off. The Bengals are six-point favorites, coming off an eight-point road win against the team which knocked them out of the playoffs last year. The Patriots are coming off a hideous performance at home against Denver, and now face a tough Bengals team on the road, a team which can and should be able to put up lots of points against a Patriot secondary that will be minus Eugene Wilson and Ellis Hobbs, already listed as a scratch for the game.
The Patriots last visited PBS on opening weekend in 2001. They began their march to Super Bowl XXXVI by laying a 23-16 egg at the then two-year-old stadium. It was Drew Bledsoe’s second-to-last start as Patriot quarterback. In 2004, they got into a shootout with Carson Palmer at Gillette Stadium, with the Patriots barely hanging on, 35-28. The Bengals have a recent history of playing the Patriots tough, and many of the players don’t forget that 33-3 preseason pasting they got at PBS in 2004.
Face it, the Bengals will throw a lot at the Patriots on offense. Palmer is one of the three best quarterbacks in the league, along with Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger (shut up, fans of Peyton Manning, this wasn’t an oversight). In addition to Johnson, he has T.J. Houshmandzadeh to throw to on the other side. With Rudi Johnson, the man who replaced Dillon, in the backfield, the Bengals right there have one of the best skill position quartets in the league. Wideout Chris Henry is also no slouch, his only problem being his ability to obey the law and stay out of the hoosegow.
What the Patriots have going for them is the fact that the Bengals don’t play real good defense. The Bengals will be minus strong safety Dexter Jackson and defensive end Frostee Rucker. Linebacker Rashad Jeanty is listed as doubtful. Other than Sam Adams or Brian Simmons, the Bengals don’t exactly scare you on defense. And that is why the Patriots must be able to keep up with the Bengals on the scoreboard.
Given the timing issues Brady is having with his new receiver corps, Dillon becomes the key for the entire game for the Patriots. Coming back to a region which looks on him with great scorn, he absolutely must rise up and make his old team look weak and wilting on defense. He must make a bold statement in front of his former fans, and in doing so could bring victory to a Patriot team which is not favored to win this game.
Dillon, still far and away the all-time leading rusher in Bengal history, came to Cincinnati in 1997 out of the University of Washington with a reputation of being more of a problem child than a great rusher. He was devastated when he fell to the second round of the draft, and was determined to prove those who passed on him wrong. Along the way to being the top Bengal rusher of all time, he set the then single game rushing record with 278 yards gained against Denver in 2000.
But trouble stayed with Dillon. Drunk driving arrests and accusations of spousal abuse clouded his stay in Cincinnati. Worse than his legal hassles was his growing disenchantment for the Bengals’ propensity for losing. Upon losing his starting job to Rudi Johnson in 2003, Dillon ended that season by throwing his gear into the stands at PBS and proclaiming that he would “rather flip burgers than play for the Bengals again”.
He got complete vindication from any malaises in Cincinnati in his first season in Foxborough. He set the Patriots’ season rushing record and got a ring for his trouble. It underscored his burning desire to win, and his teammates fell in love with him. Today, the only trouble Dillon encounters is nagging injuries which have plagued him since Super Bowl XXXIX.
Dillon needs to shake off these injury problems and make a big statement on Sunday. He must be the one to shine, not Johnson. He must be the one to do the shutting up, and that includes the derisive PBS fans as well as Johnson. Those Queen City fans cannot be happy at all with how soon after leaving their city that Dillon finally got his bling.
So, instead of running his mouth off, Johnson ought to keep his fingers crossed and pray that his defense can deal with Dillon and his mates. Because if the Patriots do win and Dillon does indeed show up his former team, nobody in southwestern Ohio will give a hoot about anything golden.
And the fans will be the ones to tell Johnson that he shoulda shut up. The fans would then do well to shut up themselves.
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