FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots coaching staff showed confidence in running back Stevan Ridley, despite a fumble in the third quarter. He rewarded them by turning in one of the best performances of his career.
Against the Steelers on Sunday, Ridley notched his fifth career game with over 100 yards rushing, and his fourth career game with two touchdowns.
Make no mistake; in the past, a fumble might have been the death knell for Ridley, and the last we'd see of him for the rest of the game. For some perspective, this was the first game this season in which Ridley crossed the 20-carry plateau.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained that there wasn't much Ridley could do about his fumble in the third quarter. Ridley caught the ball with his back to Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who came in and ripped the ball out instead of simply trying to make the tackle.
"I don't think Stevan really had much of a chance to do anything but turn," said Belichick. "Sometimes turnovers are a result of real good defensive plays. Sometimes they're the result of sloppy plays offensively. I would, unfortunately, have to credit that one to Polamalu. He made a great play on it and that's one of those things you have to live with. Stevan ran hard, like he always does. He always run shard. He's a tough runner, he gets his yards and he then always gets a few more because of his running style and his toughness and his pad level and getting downhill. He gave us that again. But he pretty much gives us that every week."
Ridley's 12 first-half carries yielded just 40 yards (3.3 YPA), but he ran hard and effectively in the second half, taking his 14 carries for 75 yards (5.4 YPA). His touchdowns were split evenly between the two halves at one apiece.
In the past, it may have seemed foolhardy to focus too heavily on running the ball just for the sake of balance. With Tom Brady at quarterback, the Patriots strength has always been throwing the ball. Brady isn't being greedy, though, and doesn't mind watching the back of Ridley's jersey from time to time.
"He runs so hard," Brady said. "You give it to him and you have so much confidence that we're going to gain yards on those plays. He runs hard. He has a great spirit and energy about him and what he brings our offense in emotion. When he's confidence, it helps our team immeasurably."
Wins and losses are not an individual stat -- despite what some quarterback enthusiasts might have you believe -- but when Ridley gets at least 20 carries over the past two years, the Patriots are a perfect 8-0. For context, five of those wins were by more than 10 points, indicative that Ridley may have earned some of his carries down the stretch with the team milking time off the clock.
That simple fact, however, may serve as another example of Ridley's value. The Patriots know they can turn to him when they need to seal the deal for a win. On Sunday, they were able to turn to him to help them gain the advantage in the first place.
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