Ridley looks to protect ball as role increases on Patriots

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Ridley looks to protect ball as role increases on Patriots

FOXBORO -- Stevan Ridley fumbled in Week 17 against the Bills. He did it in his next game too, an AFC Divisional playoff against the Broncos.

Take a seat, rookie.

Ridley never saw action again after fumbling that short Brady pass in the red zone in a third-quarter drive that saw the Patriots looking to go up 49-7 on the Broncos.

Nobody was surprised -- especially not Ridley himself.

"The ball can't be on the ground man, that's no secret," Ridley said Wednesday after Patriots-Saints practice concluded. "Fumbles will have you on the bench and nobody had to tell me that. That's kind of been a rule that I've had since I was young, that's nothing new to me. But this year we're going to try to go and do the best that I can. I have to try to keep the ball high and tight and I know that if I can keep the ball in my hands then I'll be on the field, so I have my work cut out for me."

The work started immediately after the Super Bowl -- a game that Ridley watched in uniform from the sidelines. Not being able to go out there and help his team was added fuel for Ridley's offseason workouts.

"Of course, man, of course," he said of using it as motivation. "Nobody likes to ride the pine, but you know you have to pay your dues and when you make a mistake you have to man up to it and just make sure you don't make the same mistakes."

The Patriots had BenJarvus Green-Ellis (who hasn't fumbled once in college or the NFL -- and allegedly not in high school either) last season, so benching Ridley wasn't a big deal. But this year? They don't have that luxury. Ridley looks to to be the favorite to win the Patriots No. 1 running back spot, and with that comes a lot more responsibility for the second-year back.

"This year you're kind of forced to grow up fast," he said. "You have to take the role that they give you, you have to perfect that and try to be really mistake-free. So for me, coming into this year it's just having a focus. A little bit more focus. Toning a few things down, putting in a little bit of extra time, taking care of your body. Coming out here on the field and being sound with what exactly you have to do with your assignments and things of that nature. So that's really how I'm going to try to best prepare myself for the upcoming season."

Ridley and Brady connected on a few passes under coverage on Wednesday, but just being out on the field with the first team for the majority of the day is the biggest difference from Year 1 to Year 2 for Ridley. You can bank on last year's 87 carries to increase.

"It's more reps man. I'm a little more comfortable out there," he said. "Am I perfect? Not by any means. I still have a lot of work to do. I'm just looking at how over time my carries and things have increased, my reps on the field have increased, but it's still a long way to go and there's still a long way to go."

Having played at LSU, the preseason game against the hometown Saints on Thursday night will surely add a little more meaning to an already meaningful game.

"Very excited about it, it's a big stage," Ridley said. "It's going to be very exciting to go out there and play against the Saints, especially coming from Louisiana, and we're up here working hard just like they are. It's the first game tomorrow, family is coming in. It's going to be a big-time atmosphere and I'm looking forward to it a lot."

But he isn't assuming anything, knowing there's still plenty of time left in camp.

"For me, nothing is written in stone," he said. "Nobody is the starter just yet. I'm just going out there and trying to make the most of the opportunities the coaches give me."

Hold on to that ball, kid, and you'll get plenty of them.

Know Thine Enemy: A complete breakdown of the Ravens

Know Thine Enemy: A complete breakdown of the Ravens

After a 3-0 start, the Ravens dropped a 28-27 decision to the Raiders in Baltimore. That started a four-game skid for Baltimore which included back-to-back losses at the Jets and Giants. But they got back on track against the Steelers and have won four out of five with their only being to the Cowboys. It’s hard to get a clean read on who they really are. 

They had narrow, early-season wins over crap teams like Cleveland and Jacksonville. They had a narrow loss to an outstanding Raiders team and were close with the Cowboys but got run over late with Dallas scoring on its last five possessions. They are coming off their most impressive team win, a 38-6 triumph over the Dolphins. 

This game is a big one in the AFC race not just because it’s a divisional leader but also because it will be a common game between the Patriots and Raiders. The Raiders already beat Baltimore. 

The Pats need to keep pace in a tiebreaker they currently trail. Weird schedule quirk? The Ravens have had only one road game that required a long commute since September. That was the game at Dallas. They just played six of their last nine and four of their last five at home.

LAST 5

Ravens 21, Steelers 14
Ravens 28, Browns 7
At Cowboys 27, Ravens 17
Ravens 19, Bengals 14
Ravens 38, Dolphins 6

OFFENSIVE STATS TO CHEW ON

More than half of Joe Flacco’s 323 completions have gone to three players: tight end Dennis Pitta (61 catches), wide receiver Mike Wallace (57) and wide receiver Steve Smith (54). Those players are 31, 30 and 37 respectively so it’s a veteran group.
Flacco is 114 of 159 (72 percent) with nine touchdowns and three picks in Baltimore’s last four games. He has 15 TDs and 11 picks this season.

The Ravens don’t run it much: 502 pass attempts, 287 rushing attempts. Terrence West and Kenneth Dixon are the lead backs. West has carried more than 15 times in a game on three occasions this season.

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley has been playing very well as has the rest of the Ravens offensive line in recent weeks. Still, Baltimore is just at 34.1 on third down conversions.

DEFENSIVE STATS TO CHEW ON

The Ravens have allowed 207 points this season, tied with the Patriots for lowest in the AFC and just behind Seattle (194) overall.
Baltimore’s allowing just 33.3 percent conversions on third down and only 3.4 yards per carry.

Opposing quarterbacks are completing 64.1 percent of their passes and have 21 touchdown passes and 14 picks against the Ravens defense. Ten of the Ravens 14 picks came against the Browns, Jaguars and in last week’s rout of Miami.
 
WHERE ARE THEIR HEADS AT

"I just think they've got a great team. They've got Tom Brady. They've been the best team in the conference, and it's going to be our toughest challenge of the year." – John Harbaugh, Ravens coach, on Monday night’s matchup

Bovada: Brady third in MVP race behind Elliot, Carr

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Bovada: Brady third in MVP race behind Elliot, Carr

Tom Brady has racked up some impressive numbers over eight games, but are they enough to surpass Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott or Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in the MVP race?

The Patriots have gone 7-1 since Brady returned from his four-game suspension to start the year, and the league's all-time winningest quarterback has completed 68.9 percent of his passes in that stretch (third in the league) for 2,470 yards. He has 19 touchdowns, he's been picked once, and he is averaging 8.2 yards per attempt (third), giving him a 113.1 quarterback rating (first). 

According to Bovada, he's currently the third-best bet to win MVP at 15/2, down from 4/1 last week. Ahead of him? Both Elliott (12/5) and Carr (7/2). 

The Carr comparison is an interesting one for obvious reasons. Because they play the same position, it's easier to match up their stats. In 12 games, Carr has completed 65.5 percent of his passes (12th) for 3,375 yards (fourth), 24 touchdowns (seventh) and five interceptions. He's averaging 7.4 yards per attempt (15th), and  he has a rating of 100.3 (seventh).

While Carr has the statistical advantage of playing in four more games than Brady has, he's also led his team to a record of 10-2 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC at the moment. (The Raiders hold the strength-of-victory tiebreaker edge over the Patriots, who are also 10-2.)

Meanwhile, Elliott, the talented rookie out of Ohio State who has the benefit of running behind arguably the league's best offensive line, has racked up 263 carries for 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He's also posted 28 catches for 322 yards and a score. He leads the league in total rush yards, he's second in the league in rushing touchdowns behind Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, and he's fourth in yards per attempt (4.9).