FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – A few years ago, Corey Dillon might have handled his slow start with a scowl and a swear.

He had a reputation as a selfish malcontent who was tired of being part of Cincinnati’s annual struggles. He wasn’t happy being counted on to carry the Bengals on the field and to be a leader in the locker room. On April 19, 2004, Cincinnati traded him to the New England Patriots.

Dillon adopted the Patriots emphasis on togetherness and had an outstanding season. His performance is off so far this season, but his team approach remains strong.

“Three, four years ago? I don’t know” if he’d be as calm, he said. “It prepared me for this. At this stage of my career, I don’t worry about stuff like that.”

In two games, Dillon has rushed for 99 yards and the three-time champions are 1-1.

Last season, he had 244 yards rushing after two games. He ran for 1,635 yards, a Patriots single-season record and his career high. He averaged 109 yards rushing per game, tops in the NFL.

He also made the playoffs for the first time in his eight-year career and became a champion when New England beat Philadelphia in the Super Bowl, 24-21. He even scored on a 2-yard run.

So the changed man isn’t about to revert to his former personality just because of two mediocre games.

“That volcano blew its top a long time ago,” he said. “It’s done. I’m calm. I’m just ready to work this week, try to do something positive and get the thing started.”

Dillon isn’t the only reason the Patriots offense has struggled. The line hasn’t opened enough holes and Tom Brady hasn’t hit enough receivers. Special teams also have had problems and the defense allowed three touchdowns in last Sunday’s 27-17 loss at Carolina.

But Dillon, who had six 1,100-yard rushing seasons in his seven with Cincinnati, accepts his share of the blame.

“I’m going to ride with my boys. (There’s) no finger-pointing coming from me or from anybody else around here. It’s a team thing,” he said. “I take it personally. It’s a reflection on me. Whether anybody (else) sees it (that way), that’s how I see it.”

At Carolina, Dillon gained 36 yards on 14 carries. Brady wasn’t sharp either with 23 completions for 270 yards with a touchdown pass and interception. Take away a 71-yard catch and run by Troy Brown, and Brady totaled 199 yards on 22 completions.

“When you run the ball, you can control the clock and you can control the tempo of the game,” Brady said Wednesday. “If you’re always throwing (the ball) there’s just a lot of things that can happen on a pass play that aren’t good.”

The Patriots have a rookie, Logan Mankins, starting at left guard. Right guard Stephen Neal left last Sunday’s game with an injury.

None of that helps the running game.

“There are little mental things, an error here and there,” center Dan Koppen said. “It’s a process. We’re still coming together as a unit and it’s going to be that way until the 16th game.”

The third game poses a tough challenge. The Patriots play Sunday at Pittsburgh, which has allowed 14 points in two games.

Dillon knows the Steelers well, having played against them twice in each of his seven seasons with Cincinnati and twice in Pittsburgh last season – a 34-20 loss in the regular season and a 41-27 win in the AFC championship game.

“By no means is it going to be cakewalk,” he said. “That’s a tough team.”

The key for Dillon is to remain patient. He’s confident the running game will take off.

“I’m just out there being me, seeing what I see as a runner,” he said. “If I see something develop a different way, I’m going to take that opportunity to try to get upfield with the ball. Unfortunately, I haven’t been doing a good job of it.”

He has kept calm, taking blame and remaining one part of a team he’s still happy to be with after his difficult career with Cincinnati.

“My frustrated days are over. I’m too old to be frustrated,” Dillon said. “All I can do is work to get better. I think I’ve been tested for situations like this. I’m not going to say it’s not a concern, but it’s not the end of the world. I know it’s going to get better.”

AP-ES-09-21-05 1837EDT


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