Patriots running back Stevan Ridley fumbled the ball against Pittsburgh. He fumbled in New England's next game against Carolina. He fumbled the following week against Denver.
Then he was deactivated.
It's hard to believe Ridley, who has not been on the injury report, was inactive for Sunday's matchup with Houston for any other reason than ball security. Head coach Bill Belichick would not confirm as much on his Monday conference call, however.
"The inactive players every week are based on, in part, injuries and ultimately what we feel like for that particular game is the best decision for the football team in that game to try to win," he explained in a measured tone. "Along with every other decision I make, what gives our team, in our opinion, the best opportunity to win. That's what all decisions are based on."
The Patriots did beat the lowly Texans, though just barely, without Ridley's help. The team rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns on the night with LeGarrette Blount taking the power back position. Ridley stood on the sideline in plain clothes, clutching a football to his hip for the entirety of the game.
Message received? It seemed clear enough: Clean up the ball security issues or you won't even get a chance to screw up again.
Belichick denied such symbolic punishment.
"If I've got a message to send to somebody I'll just sit down and talk to him and tell him what it is. I can have a conversation, and do have a conversation, with anybody on the team that I need to have a conversation with. That's not a problem," he insisted.
"There's no sending a message; you sit down and talk to somebody man-to-man. You talk about the situation so that we're all on the same page as to whatever it happens to be and what the direction is going forward. That's easy. There's no sending a message, you just have a conversation with somebody. It isn't cryptic. We're just trying to win a football game, that's all."
New England's lead back has been benched just one other time in his career: 2011's AFC Championship game. He had fumbled and lost the ball in the previous week's Divisional playoff tilt against Denver.
It remains to be seen whether Ridley's penance is fully paid after one game on the bench. The Patriots host Cleveland for Week 14 and the Browns have the fifth-best rush defense (98.9 yards per game allowed) in the league.
According to Belichick, the decision will be easy.
"We always what we feel is best for the team in every situation," he said. "That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it'll always be for as long as I'm here."