Patriots are Manning's new Gators

Published: Monday, January 17, 2005 at 1:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 17, 2005 at 1:20 p.m.

FOXBORO, Mass. - Corey Dillon is surrounded by the trappings of success: the Super Bowl banners hanging in Gillette Stadium, the gaudy championship rings on his Patriots teammates' fingers and, most of all, the satisfied looks on their faces as they report to work each day.


"I just knew he would have a good game," fullback Patrick Pass said Sunday after Dillon ran for 144 yards to help New England advance to the AFC title game with a 20-3 victory over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

"He wanted a taste of what we went through the past two out of three years."

The only thing between the Patriots (15-2) and a third conference title in four years are the Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat New England on Halloween when Dillon was out with a thigh injury.

"I'm certainly glad Corey's going to be there," quarterback Tom Brady said. "I know he's glad he's here _ he's told us that a bunch of times. And we're glad to have him."

Dillon played the first seven years of his career with the woeful Bengals, racking up big yards but also growing disenchanted through the years of losing. Before the Patriots traded a second-round draft pick for him in April, Dillon had to convince them that he wasn't a malcontent.

"There's not a day goes by I don't grab those guys and say, `Thank you,'" Dillon said. "I'm serious. They'll tell you, too. They're probably a little annoyed by me doing it.

"I do it just to let them know I appreciate them believing in me. I'm just ecstatic about being in this situation."

Dillon's teammates are, too. Linebacker Ted Johnson said after the game he was heading to the souvenir stand to buy a No. 28 jersey. And so are the New England fans, who chanted "Corey! Corey!" as the clock wound down.

Dillon carried 23 times _ including rushes of 27 and 42 yards _ and also led the team with five catches. Most importantly, he helped the Patriots run off 14-, 15- and 16-play drives _ their three most time-consuming drives of the season _ to dominate the time of possession 37:43 to 22:17.

That earned him the nickname "Clock-killin' Dillon" from one teammate. And it left NFL MVP Manning on the Colts (13-5) bench, trying to keep warm in the blowing snow and 16-degree wind chill while he waited for a chance to rally his team.

"It was an excellent run, a fine year," Manning said. "But when you finish with a loss in the playoffs, you can't be happy about it. Eventually, it will be our time. ... All I can think about right now is losing this game."

It was the second year in a row that the Patriots made Manning look ordinary. Last year in Foxboro, Manning threw four interceptions in a 24-14 AFC title game loss.

Manning completed 27 of 42 passes on Sunday for 238 yards and an interception, giving him a quarterback rating of 69.3 _ about half his regular-season record-setting mark of 121.1. It was the first full game this year that Manning, who had an NFL record 49 touchdowns, didn't throw one.

Manning, accustomed to the climate control of the RCA Dome, is now 0-7 in Foxboro. Brady is 7-0 in the postseason.

"I think our defense is what made this game successful," said Brady, who was 18-for-27 for 144 yards and a touchdown and also ran in another TD from the 1. "Three points to one of the best offenses in the history of football is incredible."

New England led 6-0 on Adam Vinatieri's field goals of 24 and 31 yards in the second quarter. Indianapolis scored on Mike Vanderjagt's 23-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.

When Brady threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to David Givens to cap a third-quarter drive that lasted 8:16, Manning had to make his remaining possessions count against the hard-hitting defense. He didn't _ and Brady followed with a 94-yard drive that ended with his sneak.

The Patriots were without Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who was sidelined with a knee injury, and starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole, who are on injured reserve. But the Patriots' defense still stifled the fifth-highest scoring team in NFL history.

The Colts led the NFL in turnover margin this season, but they forced none and they gave away three _ Tedy Bruschi recovered two fumbles and Rodney Harrison forced one and picked off Manning in the end zone on the Colts' last series.

"They played very well. There's nothing magical," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "They rushed them. They jammed them. They tackled them. They covered them."

The season ended for the Colts right where it started. They lost the opener in Foxboro 27-24 when Vanderjagt missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt in the final minute. The Colts have lost six straight to New England and nine straight in Foxboro.

And for the Patriots, the road to the Super Bowl again runs through Pittsburgh, where they won the AFC title in 2002. The Steelers paid them back with a 34-20 victory on Oct. 31, but New England will bring Dillon along this time.

The three-time Pro Bowl selection ran for 1,635 yards during the regular season _ a career high, a franchise record and the third-most in the NFL. His 12 rushing touchdowns were also a personal best, as were his nine games this season with 100 yards or more.

"He came in and worked hard," Brady said. "He's a great leader and he's got a great attitude. I don't care what someone's reputation is. When you come to this team, you fit in. Corey had a great attitude coming in, and it's just gotten better."

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