Dillon aiming to run past Steelers

MIKE ZEISBERGER, in Pittsburgh

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

AS A fierce blizzard pelted Steeltown with waves of sleet and snow yesterday, skates would have been the best footwear to negotiate the icy streets and sidewalks around town. We're not sure if New England Patriots' Corey Dillon has ever donned the blades before, but you can bet he would give it a try if that was the only way to get to Heinz Field for tonight's AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

WANTS HIS SHOT

No one -- not even Mother Nature -- is going to stop the veteran running back from getting a shot at the Super Bowl.

Even with a tarp protecting the field from the frigid elements leading up to the 6:30 p.m. kickoff, the two teams can expect a slick track as temperatures plunge down to the -12C range.

And with howling winds potentially wreaking havoc on any consistent passing game, Dillon's effectiveness on the ground against the NFL's No. 1 rush defence could determine which team will represent the AFC in the title game, which goes Feb. 6 in Jacksonville.

"He's big, he's strong, he's tough, he's kind of like a throw-back running back," Steelers all-pro linebacker James Farrior said. "He's one of the guys from the old days. He's not going to try to get out of your way or move. He's going to try to run you over."

While the locals here are a bit squeamish after watching their heroes eke out a sloppy 20-17 overtime victory over the New York Jets a week ago, they are peeved that the AFC's first 15-1 team is actually a home underdog today.

To those malcontents, here's a bit of advice. Get over it. Sorry to rain -- make that snow -- on your parade, but the Patriots deserve to be three-point favourites, which was the line yesterday.

Dillon is a big reason for that.

Yes, the Steelers ended the Pats' NFL-record 21-game winning streak with a 34-20 spanking of the defending Super Bowl champions on Halloween.

But don't forget that Dillon, who was nursing an injury at the time, did not play, leaving the Pats with a pathetic ground attack that compiled just five yards on six carries, an NFL worst for any team this season.

It was the only game he missed en route to running for a team-record 1,635 yards. In fact, the Pats averaged 4.0 yards per rush or better for the first time in two decades, thanks mainly to the former Cincinnati Bengal.

"To turn around and see No. 28 running down the field (this time around), I think everyone is going to feel good seeing that," Pats quarterback Tom Brady said. "The team as a whole is going to have to play its best game. We're playing a team that beat the crap out of us on Oct. 31 and only lost one game all year."

Many prognosticators overlooked the Dillon-factor heading into last weekend's divisional game against the Indianapolis Colts. Pick up a paper, click on the television, and all the pre-game hype featured analysts boasting "Peyton Manning this, Peyton Manning that ..."

Excuse us, but did everyone suddenly forget the Pats won two titles without a stud running back?

Now they have one, and it showed.

Dillon rumbled for 144 yards as part of a Pats' ball-control offence that hammered the Colts 20-3, causing his teammates to give him the label "Clock Killin' Corey Dillon."

"Corey's had a great year," Brady said of Dillon, who avoided the media for much of this week. "He has been a factor in a lot of these games, especially late in the year with the weather getting cold. It's probably going to be the same weather this weekend, so Corey is going to be a big factor."

In the end, it will be up to Steelers defensive co-ordinator Dick LeBeau to come up with a game plan to stop him.

GOES TO BAT FOR DILLON

The same Dick LeBeau who raved about Dillon to the Pats last year when Bill Belichick and co. were reluctant to trade for him. LeBeau was Dillon's former coach in Cincinnati and told the Pats that rumours of Dillon's character flaws were not true.

Today, that same endorsement might come back to bite LeBeau and the Steelers in the butt.


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