Stevan Ridley was a healthy scratch for the Patriots for the first time in three seasons on Sunday, but the benching wasn’t intended to send a message to the former 1,200-yard rusher.
Ridley, who leads the Patriots in rushing, fumbled for the fourth time this season last Sunday against the Broncos. The error saw Ridley benched for the rest of the game in Foxboro, and it appears to have played a role in him being inactive against the Texans on Sunday as well. Bill Belichick was adamant during his Monday conference call that he wasn’t trying to send a message by sitting Ridley, though.
“If I have a message to send to somebody, I’ll just sit down and talk to them and tell them what it is,’ Belichick said. “I can have a conversation and do have a conversation with anybody on the team that I need to have a conversation with. That’s not a problem. There’s no sending a message. You sit down and talk to somebody man-to-man and talk about the situation so that we’re all on the same page as to whatever it happens to be and what the direction is going forward. That’s easy. There’s not sending a message. You just have a conversation with somebody. This isn’t cryptic. We’re just trying to win a football game, that’s all.”
The Patriots’ production on the ground wasn’t exactly up to par against the Texans, giving the bulk of the carries to LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen on the afternoon, but they managed to survive without Ridley on the field. The combination of Blount, Vereen, Brandon Bolden and fullback James Develin combined for 88 yards on 27 carries (3.3 yards per carry average) on the afternoon, but they also accounted for a pair of touchdowns that boosted the Patriots to a 34-31 win.
When asked directly if Ridley’s benching had to do specifically with is fumbling tendencies, Belichick gave the most Belichick answer he could muster up.
“Well, that’s easy. We always do what we feel is best for the team in every situation,” Belichick said. “The inactive players every week are based on, in part injuries and ultimately what we feel like for that particular game is the best decision for the football team in that game to try to win. Along with every other decision on the team that I make, it’s made with what gives our team, in our opinion, the best opportunity to win on Sundays. That’s what all decisions are based on.”
Ridley has been New England’s most productive rusher this season, carrying the ball 135 times for 576 yards (4.3 ypc) and seven scores on the ground. His fumbling issues forced him to the sidelines in two prior games this season, though, and has now cost him his place on the active roster as well. The third-year back has battled through fumbling problems since his rookie season, when a fumble in a divisional playoff game against the Broncos saw him benched for the rest of the postseason.
Ridley will have opportunities in practice to earn back his spot in the running back rotation, and an injury could always force him back into the fold even sooner than anticipated. For the time being, though, Blount and Vereen will likely continue to assume the bulk of the load on the ground.