Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 12/25/12
Stevan Ridley heard the rumblings about his recent trend of fumbles, but the second-year running back wasn’t fazed by the pressure. After putting the ball on the ground in consecutive games, Ridley rebounded on Sunday with a terrific, and fumble-free, performance on the ground. Ridley carried the ball 18 times for 84 yards and helped steady a Patriots attack that saw Tom Brady throw the ball a career-high 65 times against the 49ers and another 41 times in Jacksonville. Although Brady will continue to be the focal point of the Patriots’ weekly offensive game plan, Ridley still serves a vital role in the scheme. His ability to reestablish a ground game in New England, becoming just the team’s second 1,000-yard rusher in eight seasons, has alleviated some of the pressure off of Brady’s right arm and returned balance to the Patriots’ offense. The Patriots have clearly strayed away from that balance over the past two weeks. The pass-heavy approach they’ve enacted during the last two games, throwing an average of 53 times, isn’t the winning formula that they cooked up for most of this season. That’s why Ridley’s ability to hold onto the ball is so crucial heading into the playoffs. If the Patriots are to be successful in the postseason Ridley needs to continue his powerful, yet crafty, running style, but just as importantly he needs to secure the football. Bill Belichick doesn’t stand for turnovers, which was made clear by Ridley’s benching last postseason, and he won’t patiently stand by Ridley as he resolves his issues, which he’s made quite apparent with Danny Woodhead‘s increased role recently. Ridley made a great stride toward ending his fumbling problem with a strong bounce-back outing, but there is still work left to be done. The postseason will feature much more sound and aggressive defenses, which could put Ridley’s ball-security issues on high alert. The Patriots can’t endure the costly turnovers that Ridley may cause — their recent struggles should be proof enough of that. Turnovers have been the Achilles heel for the Patriots’ offense over the past two games, which includes four interceptions from Brady, and they can’t afford to tolerate many more critical blunders. Fortunately, Ridley was focused on resolving his turnover tendencies after last week’s loss, and his commitment appears to be working — just in time, too. Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.
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