Things seem to just be getting worse for Patriots running back Stevan Ridley.
Two weeks ago against Pittsburgh he was the victim of a frustrating third quarter fumble following a reception from Tom Brady, which lead to an ensuing touchdown by the Steelers and brought them back to within a one score game at 24-17. On that play it was a situation where Ridley was almost immediately hit after he caught it, and head coach Bill Belichick later credited the play of Steelers' safety Troy Polamalu and gave Ridley the benefit of the doubt, bringing him back on the ensuing drive and showing confidence in the young running back.
Normally putting the ball on the ground would have made Ridley a spectator, as had been the case previously this season when ball control troubles had plagued him and he had lost the football. Instead he saw it as more of a great play by Troy Polamalu than a bad one by his running back, and at the time gave him a vote of confidence.
"I thought Stevan did a good job. It was really a tremendous play by Polamalu," Belichick said. "Stevan caught his ball with his back to the defender. As he turned, Troy came in there and instead of making a tackle he was able to dislodge the ball. He anticipated Ridley turning up and Troy made a good play on it.
"I don't think Stevan really had much of a chance to do anything but turn. Sometimes turnovers are a result of real good defensive plays. Sometimes they're a result of sloppy plays offensively. I would, unfortunately, have to credit that one to Polamalu. He made a great play and that's one of those things you have to live with."
Last Monday night in Carolina, Ridley did something he hadn't done this season, and that was fumble down inside in the red zone. It was one of the more egregious mistakes a player can make and something that head coach Bill Belichick has zero tolerance from any player.
However, one more time, Belichick showed that he believed in his running back. He showed that he knows how important he is to New England's ground game and he showed that confidence by giving him another opportunity to come back and carry the football in that game.
But Sunday night against the Broncos, Ridley did the unthinkable and lost the football for the third straight week, this time fumbling the ball on a spin move where Denver Middle Linebacker Wesley Woodyard put his helmet perfectly on the ball, dislodging it at the Broncos' 40 yard line on New England's opening drive. To make matters worse, the Broncos picked up the football and took it back 60 yards for the touchdown, putting the Patriots in an immediate hole down 7-0 and putting Denver some serious momentum.
From there Ridley was seen on the sideline slamming his helmet down in frustration after he likely knew he had let Belichick down yet again. And Sunday night, there would be no second chances, as Ridley was forced to be nothing more than a spectator during what ended up being a crazy football game for his team.
The only saving grace for Ridley is his teammates were just as guilty after Tom Brady lost a fumble on the ensuing drive on a strip sack, and LeGarrette Blount lost one after that.
That was frustrating for Belichick, who talked about all the miscues after the game.
"Well, I thought we were moving the ball pretty well in the first half," said Belichick. "But we turned it over, we couldn't finish the drives and they ended up not only with the ball, but one time they ended up with the touchdown. So you can't move the ball when you're losing it and we've got to hang on to it."
That turnover was Ridley's 4th fumble of the season, tied for the highest single total by a non-quarterback in the NFL.
Fortunately Sunday night New England was able to recover from the turnovers, beating Peyton Manning and the Broncos 34-31 in overtime, but Ridley knows this can't continue going forward.
“When I put the ball on the ground, they have no option but they take me out. It’s sickening, man,” Ridley told ESPN Boston. “I’m frustrated, but it’s part of the game. I think that as a player, you’re going to have your ups and your downs, but the main thing is you have to stay focused and keep your eye on the prize at the end of the day. I’m not going to get too far down. I’m going to put more pressure on myself to go out there and practice and change up some things. I can't keep doing this.”
“Consecutive weeks. Personally, as a player, my team deserves better. I come in, I work, bust my a-- every day. To come in and have the same mistakes happen, there’s something I gotta do different, I gotta do better. As a competitor all I can do is come in here and keep working."
The only question now is whether or not he'll get another chance. He's a good player with a great attitude, who off the field does all the right things. Fans want to see the same player who rushed for over 1200 yards last season put up the same numbers and be that explosive ground threat they had been lacking before he got here. But up until recently the thought process had been the fact that his performance last season couldn't have just been by accident and the fumble troubles he's had were nothing more than an anomaly.
Now they're becoming a trend, which is troublesome as New England really is going to need him down the stretch. We'll have to wait and see now what happens next, but looking at it again it's hard not to give credit to Woodyard for making a great play after making what was essentially a perfect hit on the ball.
Hopefully, for Ridley's sake, Belichick ends up seeing it the same way he did with the Polamalu play and he'll get another opportunity.