Stevan Ridley has a lot going for him as a player. He’s smart, decisive as a runner, and he gains yards in bunches. Unfortunately, his fumble problems take away from his talent on the field, and it is for that reason that he should not be brought back into the mix in the latter part of the season for the New England Patriots, despite looking impressive last week.
In the NFL, winning the turnover battle is arguably the single most important thing in order to consistently win games. Seeing that it is a passing league these days, as much of a cliché as that is to say, a running back cannot turn the football over as much as Ridley and expect to stick around. This is especially true for the Patriots, who have three other capable running backs behind Ridley in Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden.
It would be a mistake to start gaining confidence in Ridley again just as the playoffs are set to begin. After all, Ridley does lead all running backs in fumbles this year and he has been known to cough the ball up in big games and at big times. Every Patriots fan surely remembers last year in the AFC Championship game of the playoffs, and it serves as a powerful example of that fact.
In case you have repressed that game from your memory, let me remind you of what occurred. With the score being 21-13 in favor of the Baltimore Ravens, Ridley received the handoff from Tom Brady and was carrying the ball just shy of midfield when disaster struck. He fumbled after taking a shot from former Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. The Ravens recovered the fumbled at that spot and wound up scoring the last touchdown of the game on the ensuing drive, winning the game 28-13.
Although I still believe, to this day, that Ridley was down prior to the ball coming loose, it still does not excuse him coughing the ball up. Had the Patriots held onto that ball, the score would have been 21-13 with the Pats driving in the Ravens’ territory with a quarter left. Had they managed to come away with any points at all instead of handing seven the other way, that game could have played out very differently, but that’s ancient history now, and there’s no use crying over spilled milk.
The point is that this is just one example of Ridley’s folding in big-game situations, which you certainly could find more of if you kept digging. If lightning were to strike twice and he fumble in another big playoff game, or god forbid in the Super Bowl, it could potentially lose the Pats another ring while, in the process, permanently shaking Ridley’s confidence for the rest of his career.
If I was in charge, I would sit Ridley for the rest of the year and hope to fix what is broken in his game over a full offseason. If that does not help, he would be a trade candidate after the new league year starts with a bevy of capable running backs already on the roster.
Even if Vereen can’t go in the next few weeks, which doesn’t seem to be the case at this point in time, the Pats would be fine with Blount and Bolden carrying the load. They are very good running backs and they rarely cough up the football, unlike Ridley.