FOXBORO -- This has been Stevan Ridley's year. He's become a bona fide No. 1 back, rushed for over 1000 yards, and somehow even pulled off wearing a onesie in a local car dealership commercial.
But for all his success, his Achilles heel has been his inability to hold onto the football.
It cropped up at the end of last season when he fumbled twice in two games and then didn't play in the AFC Championship game or the Super Bowl. Then it reared its ugly head in a win against the Denver Broncos in Week 5.
It was a topic of conversation yet again after New England's 41-34 loss on Sunday night to the 49ers. Ridley lost a fumble in the third quarter that set up the Niners for an easy score. He also almost lost another on his first carry of the game but was ruled down by contact when the play was reviewed.
Ridley fumbled last week against the Texans as well.
"No one is harder on myself than me," Ridley said. "Nobody is more upset when I fumble than Stevan is. For me, I just have to keep working. There is a lot of football left to be played. You can't look back, and that's something we haven't done all year, wins or losses. We have moved forward. So for me that is just what I have to continue to do. But I have to be better. I have to do better in game situations holding onto the football. We can't have mistakes like that."
Ridley has proven to be an important part of the Patriots offense so when he fumbles, he won't necessarily lose all his snaps as if he were a rookie with no NFL resume.
Still, he needs to be more reliable. As does fellow second-year back Shane Vereen, who fumbled at the end of the first quarter and did not have an offensive touch thereafter.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said the miscues can be traced to what's going on between those players' ears.
"Mental toughness," Brady said. "I think that's what you show. It's not every game is going to be perfect. Not every carry is going to be a 50-yard touchdown. Not every pass is going to be a 50-yard touchdown. It's a matter of understanding what you need to do to help the team win and being selfless and doing your job. We did a better job of that in the second half. We just didn't do a very good job in the first half."