In that super letdown, the Patriots managed just 19 carries
for 83 yards. That subpar effort and the accompanying defeat spurred Belichick
to change his entire offensive strategy. Now, the focus was going to be on
building a more balanced offensive attack. And Stevan Ridley was more than
ready to buy in.
"I think coach stressed that enough to everybody,
especially the way the season ended last year," Ridley said of
establishing a running game. "For us, we're a better offense. Our offense
is better when it's balanced."
In the Patriots opening day win in Tennessee, Ridley
unexpectedly ran for his first career 100-yard game. But that would be just
the beginning of the balanced attack in New England and for the success for the
After busting out to another 100-yard performance in a Week
4 thrashing of the Bills, Ridley finally knew it was his responsibility to carry
the load — literally. And from his very first carry on Sunday afternoon, it
was obvious that Ridley was ready to lead that charge.
Ridley ran for 33 yards on the Broncos defense through
his first five carries, helping steady a 12-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that
saw the Patriots take the early lead. But, much like the Patriots' newfound
running game, Ridley was just getting started.
When the final seconds ticked off the game clock at Gillette
Stadium, Ridley may not have been present on the field, but his impact had
already been made. He steadied the offensive pace for the Patriots, who ran the
ball a season-high 54 times for 251 yards on Sunday, and set new personal highs
with 28 carries and 151 yards on the day.
Yet, the reliable back couldn't see past a late-game fumble
and remained unfulfilled by his personal achievements.
"We're not satisfied, we're never satisfied until the
year is over," Ridley said. "The fumble at the end, that really does.
It kills me. It's something that you can't really feel sorry for yourself. You
just have to improve and focus and get better at that."
Ridley knows that his ball security, something that kept him
off the field during last year's playoffs, needs to improve. But while he works
to get better individually, he knows the end result of his work will be far
greater on the team.
"It's awesome, man. It takes a lot of pressure off
[Tom] Brady," Ridley said of building a successful run game. "When
Tom's back there, who isn't looking at Tom? So, our job's easy, man. We just go
out there and run the football and be the athletes that we are."
That sort of understanding is key to developing this offense
into an even more elite and premier attack, which might have seemed impossible
in years past. For a team that's relied so heavily on the right arm of Tom
Brady over the last decade, the development of a strong ground game is
something that can only serve to benefit.
A successful rushing attack allows Brady to throw a mere 31
times, rather than the 41 he was forced to sling in that Super Bowl loss. That
sort of alleviated pressure in turn offers him the chance to focus on managing
the game and improving his decision-making throughout. Something that Belichick
apparently decided to focus on while reeling from his second Super Bowl defeat
in five years.
"Before we left last year [he stressed it]. It's
nothing that's been new to him," Ridley said of Belichick. "We've
been working on this for a long time, and we're going to continue working on it
until he's satisfied. And you know how that goes, coach is never
That type of insatiable desire is exactly what Ridley has
exhibited out of the backfield since the beginning of the season, and continues
to even after enjoying — or more accurately enduring — a career day.
The balance has been achieved through the strong running of
Ridley, Brandon Bolden, Danny Woodhead and even the little seen Shane Vereen on
Sunday. But the question remains whether that success can sustain, and if
Ridley will ensure that it does.