It’s no secret that the New England Patriots offense has seen improvements since the return of Stevan Ridley as the workhorse back. In yesterday’s game against the Steelers, Ridley was the balancing force to Tom Brady’s passing attack, carrying the ball 26 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
However, after a relatively strong first half, many thought Ridley was back to the doghouse after he fumbled a pass reception at the start of the third quarter on a perfectly executed strip by Troy Polamalu. But at the outset of the next drive, Ridley was still in the backfield, which was seen as a vote of confidence for the third year back.
After the game, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick agreed with what most of us had seen on television, saying that the fumble was more a result of a great play by Polamalu rather than a mishandle by Ridley:
I thought Stevan did a good job. It was really a tremendous play by [Troy] Polamalu. He did a great job. Stevan caught the ball with his back to the defender. As he turned, Troy came in there and instead of making a tackle he was able to dislodge the ball. He anticipated Ridley turning up and Troy made a good play on it. I don't think Stevan really had much of a chance to do anything but turn. Sometimes turnovers are a result of real good defensive plays. Sometimes they're the result of sloppy plays offensively. I would, unfortunately, have to credit that one to Polamalu. He made a great play on it and that's one of those things you have to live with. Stevan ran hard, like he always does. He always runs hard. He's a tough runner, he gets his yards and he then always gets a few more because of his running style and his toughness and his pad level and getting downhill. He gave us that again. But he pretty much gives us that every week. So does LG, LeGarrette [Blount] ran hard too, like he always does. One thing about those guys, when they get the ball in their hands, they're working hard to make yards.
That’s welcome news for Patriots fans, as Ridley is by far the most talented of the trio of healthy backs that includes himself, Brandon Bolden, and LeGarrette Blount. That group should be bolstered by one more when the Patriots visit the Panthers in week 11, as Shane Vereen is expected to return to action (which thankfully will mean no more Bolden as the primary passing back).