Ridley aims to get back starting job

Stevan Ridley took a giant step back into the good graces of his

coaches in last week’s AFC East-clinching win at Baltimore.

Now the goal for the New England running back is to stay

there.

Ridley, benched for the Dec. 1 game at Houston after losing

fumbles three straight weeks and four times on the season, was back

in the spotlight last Sunday. With the Patriots ahead 20-7 in the

fourth quarter, he carried five times for 22 yards, including a

tough 8-yarder on the final offensive drive.

”It’s better than being on the sideline, I’ll say that,”

Ridley said Thursday.

Back on Dec. 1, Ridley stood in street clothes holding a

football as his teammates rallied for a 34-31 win over the Texans.

He returned and played in the next two games, carrying eight times

in each. But at Baltimore, he carried 15 times (for 54 yards) and

was in there late as he helped the Patriots clinch their fifth

straight division title.

”Getting your playing time cut and being benched and on the

sideline isn’t anything that anybody wants to go through,” he

said. ”You have to battle back. You have to go out there and work

every day – and I can only control what I can control.”

Citing his faith as the thing that gets him through tough times,

Ridley said, ”It wasn’t what I wanted, but I know why God did it.

It wasn’t like the coaches woke up and said, `Hey, let’s bench

Stevan Ridley.’ I put myself there.”

He said he spoke to his high school coach, David Kuhn, and

former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk about the fumbling

problems. Whatever he did, so far it has worked.

”For me, it’s about not letting past mistakes hold you down,”

he said. ”I think that life brings you that – you’re going to have

adversity, you’re going to have stuff that you’re going to go

through. It’s how you bounce back from that as a person.

”I love what I do, I love the sport that I play and God put me

here. So, for me, I can’t sit on the past, whether it’s success or

whether it’s something that I don’t want.”

Despite missing two games (the other with an injury), Ridley,

who ran for 1,263 yards – the fourth-highest total in team history

– and a team-high 12 touchdowns last year, leads this year’s team

with 699 yards on the ground. He also leads the Patriots with seven

touchdowns.

But that, and the benching, are all in the past.

”For me, it’s focusing on these upcoming weeks. I think if we

finish this year the way we want to finish this year, nobody will

remember what happened in the past. But it’s going to take a total

team effort. It’s not just about me, it’s about the (running backs)

in general,” Ridley said.

”Whoever the number is back there, whether it’s Shane (Vereen),

whether it’s Brandon (Bolden), whether it (LeGarrette) Blount,

whether it’s me, we have to be accountable and we have to go out

there and be a strong point for this team.”

Ridley carried nine times for 46 yards in the season-opening

23-21 win at Buffalo, but also lost a fumble that was returned for

a touchdown that brought Buffalo back from a 10-0 deficit. Now,

it’s the Bills who can throw a monkey wrench into the Patriots’

postseason bye situation Sunday. The Patriots would clinch no worse

than the No. 2 seed with a win, but could fall to as far as No. 4

with a loss.

”It’s a team that knows us well and we know them well, and they

always do play us well,” Ridley said. ”So regardless of what the

records indicate (New England 11-4, Buffalo 6-9), it’s going to be

a battle.

”We have to respect them as an opponent when they come in, but

we’re trying to stack good football together. So last week against

the Ravens was a good start in the direction we want to go in in

this postseason, but we can’t get to our postseason without going

through the Bills first. So we have to play solid football

back-to-back weeks. That’s what we’re striving to do.”

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