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Dillon's resolve solved a few offensive problems

Give the ''old man" a little credit.

He came off the bench with 2:58 remaining in the second quarter, banged up enough with an ankle injury that ordinarily the Patriots would have ridden a healthy Patrick Pass for 60 minutes.

But Pass (hamstring) was hurt, too. Kevin Faulk is out indefinitely, and Amos Zereoue also was banged up, so the Patriots had no choice but to bring in a less-than-100-percent Corey Dillon and hope he didn't take a turn for the worse, especially with the Colts coming up Monday night.

If Dillon were a relief pitcher, he would have gotten the save in the Patriots' 21-16 win over the Buffalo Bills Sunday night.

Dillon, who hadn't practiced much in the three weeks leading up to the game, has been a little surly and playful at the same time about references to his 31-year-old body. He's at an age when running backs normally start to decline. And if you compare his production with last year, that is what's happened -- but he's also been struggling with the ankle injury.

But what a boost he can give the Patriots with just his presence.

Patriots players spoke after the game about Dillon's resolve to take control in the second half against the Bills and how much that meant to the team.

From afar, Cleveland Browns cornerback Gary Baxter, who for many years faced Dillon twice a season when Baxter played for Baltimore and Dillon for Cincinnati, commented that Dillon ''gave the Patriots a huge emotional lift when he came off the sidelines into that game last week."

Baxter, one of the Browns' big offseason signings, is out for the season after tearing a pectoral muscle in Week 2. Since having surgery, Baxter has watched a lot of football. The Dillon he saw Sunday night was the Dillon he always hated to face on the field. And that's from a guy considered one of the most physical corners in the NFL.

''The thing about Corey is he's a throwback," Baxter said. ''He's something like Earl Campbell in that he's a mean, nasty runner. He might give you a little wiggle once in a while, but his game is run right at you and make you pay for tackling him.

''I'm telling you, he's the meanest, nastiest runner I've ever competed against. So when that's missing from your offense, that's absolutely huge. Look at what he meant to the Bengals all those years.

''When the Patriots got Corey, that helped Tom Brady tremendously. Now the focus of that offense shifts a little from Tom to Corey and it keeps the defense honest."

Dillon, who rushed for 72 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries Sunday, would appear to be a great weapon for the Patriots against a fast Colts defense. Dillon isn't going to outrun some of the Colts' skilled defensive players, but he's going to wear them down physically if he's in there.

''He can hurt you," Baxter said. ''As tough as our defense was in Baltimore, at the end of the day after we had faced Corey, you were pretty sore. He tries to make contact with you.

''I'm telling you, there isn't another guy like him in the league. He's fighting you all the time. He's not looking to kick it outside too often. He'd rather try to run through you. If you're not completely prepared for that 20-25 times a game as a defense, you're going to feel it eventually."

The other effect of having Dillon in the lineup is that it builds the confidence of the offensive line.

''He's the kind of back who needs minimal blocking to get him going," said Baxter. ''If you give him a little space, he'll be able to gain positive yardage on his own. That puts the offensive line into a confident mode, which spills over into the passing game. They're able to block better for Brady because they've got that confidence going."

Dillon's inclusion in the lineup also is good for blitz pick up. Because of his physical nature, Dillon can take on the blitzing safeties and linebackers and keep them away from Brady.

This is to take nothing away from the job Pass has done. He, too, has been a profile in determination and perseverance, a more than serviceable backup who has learned a few things from watching Dillon.

The play of the offensive line, which has two rookies on the left side, is a work in progress with regard to how they block for Dillon and where the runs are directed. There's been a slight slant to the right; Dillon has 46 carries for 199 yards to the right (4.3-yard average), while he's run left 39 times for 91 yards (2.3 average) and 29 times up the middle for 111 yards (3.8 average).

Last season, Dillon averaged 5 yards per carry both left (148 carries) and right (106 carries) while running up the middle 91 times for a 4.0 average.

Against the Colts in the regular season last year, Dillon ran for 86 yards on 15 carries, but in the 20-3 playoff win, he dominated with 144 yards on 23 carries, setting up the Patriots' final score with a 27-yard run to the 1 that seemed to break the Colts' back.

In that game, the Patriots decided to run at Dwight Freeney, trying to take him out of his game as a pass rusher -- which they did.

This year's Colts, save for the big body of Corey Simon, are a quick, fast defense much like Atlanta, against whom Dillon had his first 100-yard game of the season (28 carries for 106 yards on Oct. 9).

But whether Dillon will be close to 100 percent against Indianapolis is anyone's guess. He spends most of his free time in the trainer's room and was the last one out of the locker room Sunday night. But if he can run the ball and stave off some of the Colts' blitzes, the Patriots will have a better chance of controlling the clock and keeping the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands.

While Dillon proved to be the perfect relief pitcher Sunday, the Patriots would rather use him as a starter, for all the reasons that Baxter articulated.

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