Putting Ridley's fumbles in focus

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Putting Ridley's fumbles in focus

FOXBORO - Bill Belichick has long said that, whenever a player has the ball, he carries the fortunes of the entire organization in his hands.

Not surprisingly, Belichick hates the sight of the entire organization's fortunes skidding across soaking wet fake grass or tumbling slowly through the air with nobody's hand directing them.

Fumbles. Bill Belichick hates 'em.

More now, it seems, that he ever used to.

Sunday night, Stevan Ridley fumbled for the sixth time in his career in 339 carries. For the second time this season and third time in his career, that fumble was recovered by the opponent.
It was, as Belichick would say, not what you're looking for. But it was something we used to see from the Patriots much more than we do over the past three seasons.

Consider these statistics for fumbles and fumbles lost since 2001.

2012: 13 and 7
2011: 13 and 5
2010: 9 and 5
2009: 17 and 9
2008: 17 and 10
2007: 14 and 6
2006: 27 and 15
2005: 19 and 9
2004: 24 and 13
2002: 24 and 10
2001: 29 and 13

It's eye-opening to see how often the Patriots put the ball on the ground early in the Belichick-Brady regime. And a good chunk of that was attributable to Brady, who had 11 fumbles in 2002 and 13 in 2003.

These days, though, fumbling is cause for banishment. Last season, Ridley put the ball on the ground twice late in the year. One of those fumbles was lost. He was put on ice for the most part. We'll see what the outgrowth of Sunday's fumble is. The Patriots may chalk Ridley's fumble up to a perfectly-placed hit by safety Donte Whitner and not punish Ridley with a loss of playing time. Judging by his face right after the fumble occurred -- like a dog who just got apprehended for leaving a present on the living room floor -- Ridley understood he'd done wrong.

For his part, Brady says -- somewhat tepidly -- he's got confidence in Ridley.

"I have confidence in everybody," said Brady. "If you're on this roster, everyone has confidence in you. I love every guy that I play with. Those guys give everything that they got... Stevan's done a great job this year."

Turnovers for the Patriots are rare and they are not treated with a shrug.

"I know when we win, sometimes we feel like we do a lot of things really well, and we do," Brady explained. "And the other night we do some things really well and we do plenty of things that are the reasons why we lost. I think it comes back to, a lot of times, limiting turnovers. We had four turnovers. You lose the turnover battle and a lot of times, you lose the game. Weve got to try to protect the ball this week. Certainly, thats a big point of emphasis and hopefully we can do a better job."

In his opinion, is this year's model adroit at fixing issues?

"Well, well see," he predicted. "This is when it matters most. There are important games like this that you see how tough you are to put things behind you and to move forward. We had a pretty good streak there going of wins and it feels pretty good when you're on those winning streaks, and then when you lose, it feel like you havent won a game in three years. Theres evaluation and self evaluation and the coach gives you evaluation and you try to use it in practice this week to be better and to be as prepared as you can possibly be so you dont go out and lose again."

Turnovers lead to losses, there is no arguing that. The more Stevan Ridley puts the ball on the ground, the better the chance the Patriots lose.

What the Patriots need to figure out, though, is whether not using Stevan Ridley -- stray fumbles and all -- helps than win more than not using him.

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)