The last time the Patriots had a legitimate No. 1 running back lurking in their backfield, Corey Dillon had just turned 30 years old and Tom Brady was closing in on his third Super Bowl title. Almost eight years later, Stevan Ridley has finally appeared to reinvigorate the Patriots' lost art.
In an offense where Brady has been the primary, secondary and tertiary focus — almost since the day he first took over for Drew Bledose — Ridley appeared to restore some balance to the pass-heavy attack on Sunday. And the bandaged up Brady couldn't be happier about it.
"All through minicamp, training camp, we’ve made a commitment to running the football. When you can control the tempo of the game, it really helps the rest of your team," Brady said, sporting a bandage over his nose after New England's 34-13 win. "You can’t just drop back and throw it 50 times a game. The toughness of your team is built around running the ball and stopping the run."
Brady's claim about throwing the ball 50 times a game may not necessarily be true, but theoretically, at least, he seems to be right. While the NFL continues to transition into a pass-first league, Brady has been at the helm of the charge all along. But when you take a deeper look, that might not be the best strategy for the Patriots.
Over Brady's past six full seasons under center (since Dillon ran for 1,635 yards in 2004) the quarterback has, on average, thrown a little more than 34 passes per game. During that stretch, in games that Brady has thrown at least 34 passes, including the playoffs, the Patriots hold a 38-20 record. What's more, the Patriots have only lost 27 games with Brady under center since the start of the 2005 season. That means 74 percent of the Pats losses came in games where Brady slings it 34 times, six of which were playoff losses, including both Super Bowl defeats.
The numbers definitely speak loud and clear to the flawed direction the Patriots seem to have taken in recent years. They also indicate that Ridley's role in the offense will be more than just that of a change of pace back.
Ridley carried the ball 21 times on Sunday. The result was an impressive 125-yard outing, which included a touchdown, and forced the Titans to realign their defense away from simply a Brady-centric focus. It was the first time in a long time that New England had the appearance of a lead running back and more so one drawing attention away from the passing attack.
With some strong, hardnosed running, Ridley established a ground game for the Patriots and may have shown off a new, more balanced offensive system in New England. At the very least, both Brady and Bill Belichick seemed to indicate a potential switch in philosophy.
"That’s what makes it tough to defend [us]. It’s something we’ve been doing all season long," Brady chimed in after the game.
Belichick, never one to tip his pitches, added his own thoughts on the offense.
"Stevan ran hard, broke some tackles," the coach said. "Our tight ends, our offensive line and our receivers blocked so it was good. A good complimentary game. We had good balance offensively."
If balance is what the Patriots seek, Ridley seems to be guy that can carry the load. He may not be Corey Dillon, nor will he ever be the focal point of New England's offense. But in offering up more than just a glimmer of hope on Sunday, Ridley may finally provide the stability the Patriots need to rediscover their glory days.