FOXBORO, Mass. — It didn’t take long for Stevan Ridley to prove he’s the best running back on the Patriots’ 53-man roster.
If there was any doubt coming into Sunday’s matchup with the Saints, it was put to rest on the running back’s first carry of the game, which came with just over a minute remaining in the first quarter — LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden “started” the game.
Ridley bolted up the middle for an 18-yard gain. He didn’t look back after that carry, running the ball 20 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
The Patriots had major troubles in the red zone in the first five games of the season. Maybe they just needed to start trusting their best running back again. After all, Ridley is the same player who carried the ball 290 times last season for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. But after a fumble in New England’s Week 1 game against the Bills, it seemed the Patriots lost confidence in the former bell cow.
Before Sunday night, Ridley had just 174 yards on the ground on 47 carries. He’s no longer second to Blount in rushing yards on the team, though. And after Sunday’s performance, Bill Belichick should have no reason to look back. Ridley should be the starter and Blount and Bolden should rotate behind him.
The team is better when Ridley is on the field. They’re more dangerous rushing the ball and opposing teams respect the run more. Play action works better. The whole offense clicks a little more when Ridley’s on offense.
Ridley admitted this season has been frustrating. Between the fumble, the lack of snaps and a knee injury that kept him out against the Bengals, it’s understandable.
“I can’t lie, I’m happy about the outcome of today’s game,” Ridley said. “It’s tough to watch your team play and be at home on the couch. It’s a sinking feeling, so for me, I had to put myself in a position to come back out here and I’m just thankful they gave me a few plays to go out there and do what we needed to do, and we were able to pull it off.”
When Ridley was out, the offense really floundered against the Bengals. The team’s loss can’t be placed squarely on Ridley’s absence, but it was a major part of the team’s struggles.
So, until Shane Vereen returns in Week 11, the Patriots would be wise to believe in Ridley. He may have an occasional fumble, but Blount had one of those last week and Bolden’s had his fair share of dropped passes.
No running back is going to be perfect in this offense, so why not go with the most explosive, proven option? The one that carried the offense for periods of time last season and showed he could do it again on Sunday.