A couple of hours before Sunday's game with the 5-1 Seahawks at
Paul Brown Stadium, first-year Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis got
a troubling cellphone call from running back Corey Dillon. Dillon
had lost control of his 1963 Impala on I-71 and fishtailed into a
guardrail about 15 miles north of the stadium. He was unhurt but
shaken. "He was in a panic," Lewis said later. It had already
been a rough week for Dillon, who was bothered by a strained
groin muscle and had spouted off about wanting the ball more,
even saying he wouldn't mind being traded. Though Dillon, the
Bengals' alltime leading rusher, would arrive at the stadium
about an hour before the game, Lewis had put him on the inactive
list and decided to play the little-used Rudi Johnson.

Johnson, a third-year player out of Auburn who ran for 67 yards
last season, had the first 100-yard rushing game by a Bengal
other than Dillon in six years, gaining 101 yards on 27 carries
and scoring a touchdown in the Bengals' 27-24 upset. The win kept
Cincinnati (3-4) a game behind the Ravens in the weak AFC North
and reinforced the point Lewis has been hammering into his
players: No one is bigger than the team. Lewis, who has taken
over final say in personnel decisions from club president Mike
Brown (12 straight seasons without a winning record), has
preached to his players that if they do what he says, winning
won't be far behind--and the Bengals, victors in three of their
last four, have gotten the message.

"People around the league don't want to play this team right
now," says linebacker Kevin Hardy, one of Lewis's free-agent
imports. Easy, Kevin. But imagine this: The Bengals have games
against Arizona (2-5) and Houston (2-5) in the next two weeks,
and two wins would put them on a 5-1 roll heading into a home
game against the Chiefs (8-0) on Nov. 16. That just might be an
interesting matchup.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN Against the Seahawks, Johnson ran for more yards than he did all last season.

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