Column: Patriots should roll the dice with Stevan Ridley down stretch, in playoffs
Stevan Ridley did the crime (again) against the Broncos eight days ago and he paid the time Sunday against the Texans when he was a healthy scratch.
That should be that.
Ridley would swiftly take up the mantle of “dumbest player in the NFL” away from the Texans’ Antonio Smith if he has not yet realized that he has a fumbling issue. Here’s guessing that Ridley has known for some time now. It appeared he got the message in the seconds following his first quarter fumble against Denver when he slammed his helmet in disgust on the Patriots’ sidelines. It also appeared he got the message Sunday when CBS cameras spotted him, like a scene out of a bad 1990s high school football movie, clenching a football against his body while his teammates got to have all the fun out on the field.
Know this: if Ridley wasn’t a talented guy, he would have already been cut by Bill Belichick. He certainly still has great “value” to the team. And there’s that little thing about him being worlds more talented than LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden.
So, should the King of the Cough-Up get meaningful carries the next few weeks and into January? Here’s saying a definitive, “Yes!”
When the Patriots won their three titles in the Belichick-era, they did so with talented running backs. Corey Dillon was phenomenal, as most know. Antowain Smith, arguably the most underrated player of the Pats first title run, had four 100-plus yard rushing games in 2001 and posted 204 yards on the ground in three playoff games that season. He also coughed up the ball four times that year.
Ridley has coughed up the ball four times this season. Unfortunately for him, he has a (pardon the God-awful pun) riddled history when it comes to ball control. Never was this more evident than the AFC Championship game last season when he was knocked out cold by Patriots assassin Bernard Pollard and lost the football.
In 2012, Ridley carried the ball 323 times, including the playoffs. He fumbled five times total. The first three times he did so last season, it wasn’t that big of a deal because the Patriots won. The last two came in losses to the 49ers on Sunday Night Football and the league’s title game against Baltimore. Those mistakes came on grand stages, in losses, and those tend to stick with people over the long haul.
Great players often fall victim to this scenario. Wes Welker came up with literally hundreds of huge catches for the Patriots from 2007-2012. His two big playoff drops, one in the Super Bowl against the Giants and one last winter against the Ravens, are part of the reason as to why Welker was jeered by New England fans last week. But here’s guessing those same fans would take him back in a heartbeat today (money notwithstanding) because he is the type of player that has the potential to be great every single time he takes the field, even with all the baggage. Ridley is no different. He is the most talented running back the Patriots have. Whichever team hoists the Lombardi Trophy in early February in New Jersey will have some luck on their side, as there are no historically great teams in the league this season. For the Patriots, it’s time to roll the dice with Ridley and hope the good outweighs the bad.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS