Danny Amendola wasn’t the only Patriots player gritting it out and playing through injury Sunday afternoon.
New England’s star running back du jour, Shane Vereen, broke his wrist in the first quarter of Sunday’s game, according to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports. Vereen powered through the injury, racking up 159 total yards, none of which came easy. But now Vereen will be out for weeks as he undergoes surgery.
The Patriots have no choice now but to turn back to Stevan Ridley, despite his fumbling issues. He’s not a bad player to have to turn to as a last resort. Ridley only put together a 1,263-yard, 12-touchdown season in 2012. And sure, the former third-round pick has his fair share of issues holding on to the ball, but it’s really not quite as chronic as some would imagine.
During his career — regular season and playoffs — Ridley has eight fumbles, five of which have wound up in the opposing team’s hands. It’s less than ideal, especially since New England used to employ Mr. Dependable himself, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who never fumbled as a Patriot. But there’s a reason Ridley became the bell cow in Josh McDaniels‘ system last season: He’s the best running back on the Patriots’ roster.
New England has other choices, of course. The Patriots could start LeGarrette Blount or Brandon Bolden at running back and use Leon Washington on third down. But to completely bury Ridley on the depth chart for two opening-week fumbles would be a mistake.
Turnovers are important. They may be the most underrated aspect of any football game. But there’s no one on the Patriots’ roster who can move the ball quite like Ridley. He can consistently gain positive yardage and, while he doesn’t have the greatest breakaway speed, he’s been known to fire off some big plays.
There’s also something to be said about continuity in the Patriots’ offense. If Tom Brady is already dealing with new wide receivers and tight ends, does he really need to rely on a new face at running back, as well?
Ridley knows the system and worked hard to better himself this offseason. He obviously worked hard on improving his hands and receiving skills during training camp and even showed some versatility by lining up as a wide receiver.
Ridley is not Vereen. He can’t be the all-around threat that the former Cal Bear is, but he proved last season that the Patriots can depend on him to win football games. And while Blount and Bolden could probably shoulder the load too, Ridley churned out a near-All Pro performance last season.
It’s been a roller coaster first week for Ridley. Hopes were sky high for the third-year player as the season opened, but midgame, he found himself licking his wounds in Bill Belichick‘s doghouse. Now he’ll need to pick himself back up (put both hands on the football) and recharge the Patriots’ offense starting this Thursday against the Jets.
Brady is running out of players he can rely on. Maybe Ridley will need a couple of snaps to regain Brady and Belichick’s trust, but one game and two carries shouldn’t reroute a blossoming star’s career. It’s back to being Ridley’s backfield, and now it’s about fending off Blount and Bolden, rather than clawing his way past Vereen.