Tuesday, November 11, 2003 at 1:00am

The Bengals are now 4-5, and they could provide the Chiefs with a challenge to their undefeated record Sunday. The game is in Cincinnati, and the team believes it can keep pace with the first-place Ravens who lead them by just one game in the division.

One thing that does seem clear is that running back Corey Dillon doesn't have a future with the team. Coach Marvin Lewis wants players who will be professionals, and while Dillon is talented, dependable is not a word to describe him.

Against Houston Sunday, running back Rudi Johnson carried 43 times for 182 yards while Dillon nurses a groin injury. Previously, Dillon seemed willing to play with the bothersome groin. Now, he says he won't play unless he's 100 percent.

"I like to play with reckless abandon and crash into people," Dillon said. (At) 85 percent, am I better than most people in the league? Probably. But 85 percent (isn't) cutting it by my standards. I've got to be full tilt in order to accomplish what I want to accomplish."

Whatever he accomplishes, if anything, will likely be somewhere other than Cincinnati in 2004.

Speaking of Lewis, he ignited a firestorm in town following the team's loss the previous week to Arizona.

At his Wednesday press conference, Lewis said, "We lost one football game last week, and everybody jumped off (the bandwagon). ... It's natural. It's human. It's expected. They jumped off 14 places around the league last weekend."

That wasn't too bad, but then when asked if he understood the mindset of Bengals fans, who have experienced 12 consecutive non-winning season, Lewis said, "I understand that. But again, when you don't have anything invested in it, how can it be baggage for you? But when you don't work here and don't have anything truly invested in it, it's like going to the movies. If you don't like the actor or the director, I guess you quit going, and that's part of it. (Team employees are) the ones that carry this around."

After practice that day, after hearing of the fans' reactions to his comments, Lewis said, "People's feelings are very emotional that way. You want them to stay through thick and thin but that's not human nature. It's all I can control. We're going to try and win football games. If we fill the stadium, we've got a great opportunity to have a decisive advantage, which helps."

He then called a radio station that had broadcast the press conference to explain himself and apologize.

"It was made to people who jumped off the bandwagon," Lewis said. "I didn't mean to offend anybody. I do understand that people do have a financial commitment as far buying tickets and season tickets and we're trying to encourage them to do more of that. So, I do apologize to everybody because I didn't mean it to come out that way. It's just my fault. I was wrong in inferring that. I didn't mean to infer it that way.

"We won't go down that road ever again but again I do apologize to our fans and our future fans because we're trying to do the opposite. I want people here

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