FOXBOROUGH -- On the weekend of Jan. 15-16, Corey Dillon will find himself where he has never been -- the playoffs.
For a back who has run the ball so hard for so long, it is normally a difficult time. But Dillon, 30, who is nine rushes away from tying the busiest season of his career (he had 340 carries in 2001 with Cincinnati), appears ready to take his act into the postseason.
There has been talk of Dillon's sore foot and thigh all season, but he has never complained. He missed the Oct. 31 game in Pittsburgh, but since then has played every game.
Has he been hurt more than he's let on?
"No. I feel pretty good," he said. "Aches and bruises here and there. Nothing alarming. I feel real good."
Dillon isn't sure how much he'll play in the regular-season finale Sunday against San Francisco at Gillette Stadium. He needs 81 rushing yards to reach 1,600 for the season and trigger the final $375,000 incentive clause in his contract. If Dillon had at least 300 receiving yards (he has just 85) and 1,550 rushing yards, he could have reached the maximum $2.25 million in incentives in his contract that way. But heading into Sunday, the 81 rushing yards is more realistic.
But to hear Dillon tell it, he has no idea about the incentives, nor did he realize he had topped Curtis Martin's franchise record for rushing yards last Sunday against Martin's Jets.
"What record?" Dillon said when asked how it felt to set the franchise standard. "If I did it, it's a bonus. It's a contribution of this organization, my teammates. They helped me along. I didn't do it by myself. Offensive line, tight ends, fullbacks, receivers. They all had a part in it. It's an accomplishment not only for me but for everybody.
"If you asked me what the mark was, I couldn't tell you. I didn't think about it. I just went out and played football. If I got a record in the process, that's the contribution of everyone. It wasn't something I set out to do.
"Even to be mentioned in the same breath as [Martin] is a good thing. He's doing a tremendous job this season. He's one of the best backs in the league. To be mentioned along with him, that's pretty good."
Dillon responded similarly when asked about the incentives in his contract.
"What bonus?" he said. "The funny thing about it is [the media] know more about my incentives than I do. If I get it, I get it. If I don't, I don't. I'm not worried about that. That's not the biggest thing on my mind. The thing I'm concerned about is getting prepared for San Francisco and just going out there and playing hard."
Dillon had to agree to restructure his contract when he was traded to the Patriots prior to this season. His deal with the Bengals called for him to be paid $3.3 million in base salary this season, with another $250,000 in incentives. The Patriots gave up a second-round draft pick for Dillon and they wanted to make sure that if Dillon didn't perform up to expectations or if rumors of him being a problem to deal with were true, they wouldn't have to pay him big dollars.
The Patriots are assured a first-round bye in the playoffs and cannot improve their standing Sunday, yet Dillon said he will prepare as if he's playing the first week of the season.
"It's the last game. I just want to finish strong and that's what I'll prepare to do," he said. "Hopefully, I'll play the whole game. I haven't got any word on how much playing time I'm going to get. I don't think anybody has. My mind-set is I'm going to play the whole game."
In his seven regular-season finales, Dillon has never rushed for 100 yards. He would have to have his best finale ever to reach 1,600 yards.
Dillon said he is not concerned about getting hurt in what many would describe as a meaningless game. "I've been doing this for a long time," he said. "I'm pretty smart about what I'm doing. I take care of my body and get a lot of rest, and on Sundays I go out there and leave it all on the field. It's been something I've been doing for a long time."
Coach Bill Belichick stressed the importance of finishing the regular season on a positive note, which was echoed by Dillon.
"We're getting where we need to be," Dillon said. "We're peaking and that's what you need to do. You need to get into these playoffs on a roll and I don't think we want to take any steps back, so we're going into this and play hard and just try to continue to excel, do our best, and carry this over into the playoffs."