FOXBORO, Mass. — If Stevan Ridley was benched in the first quarter for disciplinary reasons, no one is fessing up to it.
That’s really the only logical explanation for Ridley’s compete absence at the beginning of the Patriots’ 27-17 victory over the Dolphins. Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount got the nod in the first quarter and Ridley’s first carry came less than five minutes into the second period.
The Patriots did not fair well without Ridley in the game. Without the should-be starter, New England accumulated just 17 total yards on 10 plays and three drives that resulted in one three-and-out and one interception. Bolden and Blount ran for just 14 yards on six carries.
Ridley’s first drive ended with a Patriots field goal. Five of the seven drives that Ridley had carries resulted in scores. This team is better when last year’s 1,200-yard back is on the field. But apparently Bill Belichick doesn’t agree.
“We do what we think is best to win,” Belichick said when asked if Ridley and Logan Ryan sat out for disciplinary reasons.
Well, they did win, but it was despite the time Ridley was not on the field.
Last season, Ridley played at a near All-Pro level. Many chalked that up to an impressive offensive line, but Ridley is playing just as well in his limited opportunities behind an offensive line — made up of the same players as last year’s — that has struggled to open up holes at times.
Ridley’s not the best pass-catcher, so there will probably always be a different back in on third downs and in the no-huddle. But he’s so explosive off the hand-off that it makes no sense to keep him out of the offense as a first- and second-down back.
That’s not to say Blount or Bolden are bad players. They both have roles, as will Shane Vereen when he comes back, but Ridley didn’t run for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns last year by mistake. He hasn’t run for four touchdowns and 399 yards on 92 carries by mistake this year either.
It was slightly understandable that Ridley got limited reps in Week 1 and possibly Week 2 after he fumbled against the Bills. But since Week 4, Ridley has been on a tear, running for 278 yards on 56 carries — good for 5.0 yards per carry.
Ridley could be benched for any number of reasons. He loafed into the end zone last week, which drew the ire of Dan Dierdorf in the CBS announce booth. But once again, Belichick, nor Ridley is admitting his time on the sideline was for any reason other than game plan.
Ridley has been a good sport about the running back-by-committee approach the Patriots are taking. And that’s wise to do in Foxboro. But it’s clear the team is better with Ridley on the field.
It’s only going to get tougher to run the ball, too. Sebastian Vollmer went down and had to be carted off with what looked like a broken leg. Holes on the right side of the field will be tougher to open without Vollmer in there and defenses can stack the left side of the field more without the All-Pro in the offense.
There’s only one cure for a worse line: more Ridley. Ridley’s biggest impact comes in the running game, but he also plays a big role in the pass game since defenses respect the rush, and play action, with Ridley in the game.
Ridley was one of the keys to fixing the Patriots’ offense on Sunday. He could be a long-term cure too. There’s only one way of finding out if he can fix this up-and-down unit — by playing.