The running back shed his selfish label and became the go-to runner the team sought.
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (AP) -- He heard himself called a selfish player, a malcontent, a bad teammate. What really got to Corey Dillon was that for the first seven years of his career he never heard anyone call him a winner.
"For years, I really lost hope," the New England Patriots running back said. "I really thought I'd never get to this stage, but I just kept pressing. I love going to work and working hard to try to help this organization win."
Dillon had never been in the playoffs before this year, slogging through in Cincinnati, growing dissatisfied with the losing and the team's increasing dependence on him to carry the offense. He ran for a then-record 278 yards in a single game in 2000, and he had more than 1,100 yards in each of his first six seasons.
But in 2003, his last year in Cincinnati, he injured his groin and grumbled about becoming part of the "Bungles" legacy of losing. He wanted out, and by that time the Bengals were happy to get rid of him. It was almost unfair when the defending Super Bowl champs -- winners of two NFL titles in the previous three years-- got Dillon for a second-round draft pick.
Antowain Smith was a steady but unspectacular running back on the two championship teams, and there was no doubt Dillon was an upgrade. But would he fit the team-first attitude of the New England locker room, where dissension is discouraged and going public with your complaints is just not done?
After talking about Dillon with his former teammates, coaches and friends, the Patriots concluded he wouldn't be a problem at all.
"He was a heck of a player with the Cincinnati Bengals, and he's been really good with us," said Scott Pioli, the Patriots' head of player personnel. "All of us have reputations that precede us. So you sit with a person, man or woman, and find out what and who they are for yourself. We try to avoid judging people before we spend time with them."
Dillon was concerned enough about his reputation that he addressed his new teammates when he arrived, asking them to keep an open mind. They did, and Dillon thrived in a system where no single player is the focus of the offense.
"Nobody really passed judgment on me," Dillon said. "I'm pretty sure that it was in everyone's mind: Let's see what this guy is all about and see if the rumors are true. But just right off the bat, everyone welcomed me with open arms. Everyone has been great."
And so has Dillon.
He ran for more than 100 yards in nine of 15 games this year -- and never for fewer than 79. He missed the biggest game of the regular season, at Pittsburgh, with a thigh injury. Without him, New England ran for five yards on six carries and lost to the Steelers on Oct. 31, ending its 21-game winning streak and costing it home-field advantage for the AFC title game.
In his playoff debut against the Colts on Jan. 16, Dillon carried 23 times for 144 yards as the Patriots ran Indianapolis out of the postseason, earning him the nickname "Clock-Killin' Dillon."
"He's added a great element to this team," quarterback Tom Brady said. "He brings toughness to the offense just by the way he runs the ball, and he's very excited. You can tell in practice."