FOXBORO -- Stevan Ridley had his best game in almost two months last week in New England's 41-7 win over the Ravens. He carried the ball 15 times for 54 yards and for the third straight week he got through a game without putting the ball on the ground.
After losing fumbles in three straight weeks in November, Ridley was a healthy scratch in Week 13 against the Texans. Since then he has seen his workload gradually increase as he regains the trust of the Patriots coaching staff. He carried the ball eight times in both Week 14 and Week 15 for a combined 69 yards.
On Thursday, Ridley spoke to reporters about the difficulty of fighting through his fumbling issues and his intentions to permanently put them in his past.
"I just really believe this," Ridley said. "God will never put you through anything more than you can handle. For me, it wasn't what I wanted, but I know why I got there. It wasn't like the coaches just woke up and decided, 'Hey let's bench Stevan Ridley today.' I put myself there. For me, it's about not letting past mistakes hold you down. I think that life brings you that. You're going to have adversity. You're going to have stuff you have to go through. It's how you bounce back as a person.
"I love what I do. I love the sport that I play. God put me here. For me, I can't sit on the past, whether it's success or it's something that I don't want. For me it's focusing on these upcoming weeks. If we finish this year the way we want to finish this year, nobody will really remember what happened in the past, but it's going to take a total team effort. It's not just about me. It's about the running back room in general, being strong whoever is back there. Whether it's Shane [Vereen], whether it's Brandon [Bolden], whether it's [LeGarrette] Blount, whether it's me, whoever it is, we have to be accountable and be a strong point for this team."
Ridley said he visited with former teammate Kevin Faulk when the team was in Houston, and Faulk "got to tell me some things I needed to hear," Ridley said. During the game against the Texans, Faulk was seen on the sidelines wearing a baseball cap and Patriots sweats instead of pads.
"Getting your playing time cut and getting benched and being on the sideline isn't anything anyone wants to go through so you have to battle back," Ridley said. "It's nothing that's going to be given to you. You have to work everyday, and I can only control what I can control. Like I said, when they call my number, I have to go out there and be a solid player. Being a solid player is also not making small mistakes that are very costly. Regardless of the good that you bring to the game, you have to realize that mistakes will also cancel that. For me, it's just you have to grow from this, you have to learn, you have to move on."
Ridley could be seen in the weeks following his last fumble against the Broncos in Week 12 hustling to be the first in line during ball-security drills in Patriots practices. His right arm wrapped around a football clung securely to his chest, coaches would do their best to punch it out while Ridley shuffled through bags on the ground.
"One hand!" running backs coach Ivan Fears could be heard yelling during one session. "High and tight!"
For Ridley, the formula to correct his fumbling problem is a simple one.
"Hold on tight, man," he said. "That's all I can tell you. There's no magic words. There's not one thing I can do. I can't change the player that I am. I just have to go out there and play ball. Honestly, I just spend a lot of time on my knees and praying about it and talking to the people that I knew are close to me. The bad times will pass too, just like the good ones. It's all in the past. These upcoming games, we're trying to be mistake free. If we can be mistake free, that definitely gives us the upper hand and the better chance of trying to win the ballgame. That's all I can do. There's no hard feelings, I'm just trying to win every game from here on out, the Bills included. That's how our team's focus is right now."
Against the Ravens last week, Ridley was called upon with the Patriots leading 20-7 -- the game still up for grabs -- to try to bleed time off of the clock. He carried the ball five times and the drive resulted in a Blount touchdown, effectively putting the game out of reach with a little more than two minutes remaining.
"It was a step," Ridley said. "It was a big step, man. For us as a team, I try not to focus on things of the individual. But for us as a team, it was big to close out the game the way we closed the game out. Also being in Baltimore that's a tough place to play, that's a good football team. For us, that's a big challenge. I think we stepped up to the challenge and we did what w had to do. All that is to say, none of that matters this week. We gotta go out there and we gotta handle the Bills. We had some good signs, we had some things that we liked, but we have to play against the Bills and that's a great defense coming in here that gets to the quarterback, they're very active. It's also a team that knows us very well."
Ridley admitted his time on the sidelines bothered him, but he's committed to slowly working his way back to being the player the Patriots trusted to carry the ball 290 times for 1,263 yards last season.
"If I said it didn't bother me I'd be lying," Ridley said. "That's part of it. I don't know one single player you could talk to right now that's played this sport who hasn't gone through some kind of adversity. Whatever form it is, you're going to go through some kind of adversity. But the good ones find a way to shake that. The good ones find a way to make things happen and not make the same mistakes. That's what I have to do if I'm going to be a good running back, regardless of what I've done in the past. Regardless of the mistakes I've made, it's all about this point going forward."
Ridley has dealt with ball-security issues dating back to his college days at Louisiana State, but fumble problems aren't limited to him within the Patriots running backs group.
Blount had three fumbles in each of his first two years in the league, and he's added two more this year. The most recent came in the first quarter against Denver after he entered to replace Ridley following Ridley's fumble one drive earlier. Both ended up together on the sidelines for the majority of that night, but Blount remained active for New England's game against Houston the following week while Ridley sat out.
"We both know what the consequences are of putting the football on the ground," Blount said. "When we do that, we both get put in the dog house. I told myself that I'm not putting it on the ground no more. I'm sure he's told himself that, too. I'm happy that he's worked himself back up to where he is now. I hope he continues to work and get better and move forward within this offense because me and him can do a lot of things. As long as we're both playing as well as we did last game, the things we can do are limitless."
Going forward, Ridley should see continued work though both Blount and Vereen have proven to be valuable pieces to the Patriots offense.
Having experienced what it feels like to be a healthy scratch, Ridley will welcome whatever workload comes his way.
"It's better," he said, "than being on the sidelines, I'll say that."