Stevan RidleyStevan Ridley is the best bell cow running back on the Patriots’ roster.

That’s why New England can’t go away from Ridley completely, despite his fumbling issues. But it’s time for the Patriots to go back to the running back by committee and limit their starter’s snaps.

Ridley got just four carries and five snaps on Sunday night and he didn’t see the field after his first-drive fumble. Bill Belichick stuck him on the frigidly cold bench. And after fumbles in three straight games, it was the right thing to do.

I’ve been a huge supporter of Ridley this season. I thought the fumbles would go away. Eric DickersonWalter Payton and a player Patriots fans are familiar with, Kevin Faulk, all had fumbling issues early in their careers. So it’s certainly possible Ridley won’t carry these ball-security errors with him for the rest of his career.

But for now, it’s obvious Ridley has a problem, whether it’s as simple to solve as how he holds the ball or as difficult as a lack of confidence. And until he fixes whatever is plaguing him, Ridley has to be used sparingly.

It’s obvious the Patriots’ offense is better when Ridley can be used heavily on first and second down. He runs harder and with more certainty than LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. But this offense can get by with using Bolden — since Blount had a fumble of his own — as the team’s “starting” running back.

With how often New England passes, Shane Vereen will still be the most heavily utilized running back on the roster. Vereen will get a heavy dose of carries and continue to split out wide and run routes out of the backfield.

On the season, Ridley is averaging 4.3 yards per carry to Bolden’s 5.2 and Blount’s 4.6. Obviously that statistic doesn’t tell the full story, but Bolden has more than held his own out of the backfield. Bolden has not fumbled while Ridley has coughed up the ball four times. Blount has two fumbles after Sunday night.

Bolden has also been the better big-play threat this season. He has long carries of 46 and 33 yards. Ridley has long carries for 23 and 20 yards.

Bolden was limited by an ankle injury until he finally got some rest with the bye week and a game off against the Panthers. He appeared to be running harder and better against the Broncos. He had 13 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown against Denver. He’s also had no problem getting into the end zone from the goal line this season.

It’s not ideal to limit Ridley’s carries from a talent standpoint, but it’s time for the Patriots to do it. They should not shut him down for good, that has risks of destroying the running back’s already seemingly faltering confidence. But to put Ridley out on the field on the team’s first drive just to have him cough up the ball more is a recipe for disaster.

The Patriots were lucky to get out of the hole Ridley (Tom Brady and Blount) put them into with his first-quarter fumble. They may not be so lucky again. And they weren’t against the Panthers.

So for now, the Patriots should lean on Vereen as the team’s starter and Bolden should be the next one in line for carries. Ridley and Blount should still get their share of carries, but enough is enough with the turnovers. Brady and Belichick have worked too hard to avoid those mistakes over their long tenure together.

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