FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Corey Dillon got his medical report from his coach. The running back was told by the secretive Bill Belichick that his status, at least for public consumption, is “day-by-day.”

Dillon kept repeating that phrase Wednesday as he and third-down back Kevin Faulk appeared closer to playing again for the New England Patriots, perhaps as early as Sunday at home against the New York Jets.

“I got some wording today and if you heard the wording you would understand. I’m day-by-day,” Dillon said with a laugh. “The message was heard loud and clear.

“The principal came to all of our offices and told us how it is. So, day-by-day. Ask Bill. Day-by-day. That’s all I could tell you, day-by-day.”

Belichick shed little light on when his running game, fourth worst in the NFL, would have its two top players back.

Dillon missed the last two games and all but the first play of the previous one with a calf injury.

Faulk has been sidelined the last eight games with a foot injury. Both walked in the locker room without a limp Wednesday but missed at least part of practice.

“Day-to-day,” Belichick said when asked how close they are to playing.

“I think they’re closer today than they were last week. I don’t know that they’re at the same point. I think it’s two independent situations.”

There were signs that at least one might play Sunday.

On Tuesday, the Patriots released running back Michael Cloud, who spent four games with them after running back Patrick Pass hurt his hamstring and missed two games.

And Faulk’s condition on the injury report improved Wednesday for the third straight week, from out to doubtful to questionable, meaning he has a 50-50 chance of playing Sunday.

Dillon remains questionable for the third consecutive week.

On last Wednesday’s injury report for the game at Kansas City, 10 Patriots were questionable and six of them played.

The Patriots have four running backs – Dillon, Faulk, Pass and Heath Evans.

Evans has been with New England for four games after being released by Miami and has rushed for 169 yards with eight receptions. He was primarily a fullback in his other four NFL seasons.

“I’m ready for whatever this team needs me to do,” he said. “Special teams. Whatever. I’m here for this team.”

A healthy Dillon would be a big improvement in the running game. He rushed for a career-high 1,635 yards last year, the seventh time in eight seasons he gained more than 1,000.

This season, though, he’s rushed for 441 yards in eight games, missing one with an ankle injury and two with the calf injury.

Injuries to him and others contributed to the Patriots’ 6-5 record.

“We haven’t been running the ball as efficiently as we would have liked and I think part of that is because we have been losing,” said quarterback Tom Brady, who threw four interceptions in last Sunday’s 26-16 loss at Kansas City. “Some of that is because of injuries. Every year is different.”

Dillon has never had a season like this one.

He missed more than one game in only one of his previous eight seasons. He rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of his 15 games last year. He’s done it just once in his eight games this year.

“Any time when you’re injured and you’re just sitting down and watching, that’s not good. I don’t like that,” Dillon said. “You want to play and there’s a lot of people playing through pain. But playing through pain and being effective is two different stories. So I think if you’re playing through pain, you want to be effective at the same time. So it’s a real gray area.

“I would love to go out there and fight it out with my boys.”

He backed off a statement he made after hurting his calf Nov. 13 at Miami about not playing until he’s 100 per cent healthy, saying no player is 100 per cent healthy.

But is he getting healthier?

“Possibly,” he said with a smile. “Hey, I’m taking it a day at a time. Company line.”

AP-ES-11-30-05 1847EST


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