The 2013 season is coming down to crunch time for the New England Patriots. They’ve all but locked up a spot in the playoffs, and what they need to focus on at this point is setting themselves up for postseason success. Patriots fans have been down this road before, watching the team earn double-digit wins in the regular season only to see it all fall apart when the games matter the most.
What they’ve been missing those years was a running game to salt away those typically competitive playoff contests. In each of the last two seasons, the Patriots had leads in the second halves of their eventual season-ending losses. They weren’t able to chew up clock and seal the deal. They just didn’t have the running game to keep the ball away from offenses that will inevitably be tough to stop, simply because they were good enough to get deep in the playoffs in the first place.
This season, what they need is to cultivate the kind of running game that keeps the ball away from the elite quarterbacks who take their teams deep into the playoffs. That means they need to turn things around for Stevan Ridley, the best ball carrier they have on the roster.
Ridley, who was benched for the last game against the Houston Texas because of fumbling issues he had against the Denver Broncos, needs to be re-inserted into the lineup because he is the best hope New England has for the kind of grind-it-out, downhill running game that can complement the improving passing game.
New England has other running backs on the roster that have shown promise this year. Shane Vereen has come on strong since returning from injury, but he is better used as a weapon in the passing game than as a game-closing back. LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden can be counted on for some yards, but neither has shown the talent to be a true No. 1 back. Only Ridley has the track record that leads you to believe he can carry the team to a title this winter.
The Patriots need Ridley back and better than ever come the playoffs. The only way he will be ready for full-time duty in a month is if the Bill Belichick lets him out of the doghouse over the last few games of the season.