FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Stevan Ridley spun away from Wesley Woodyard and the ball went flying out of his hand.
Woodyard’s helmet, or hand, had punched the ball out and Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller scooped it up. Sixty yards later he had a touchdown, the Broncos had the early lead Sunday night and Ridley’s night was done.
The New England Patriots’ talented third-year running back was banished to the heated bench for the rest of the game. The team came back to defeat the Broncos 34-31 in overtime without him.
Ridley, of course, wasn’t the only Patriot to fumble Sunday night – the team had six fumbles, two others that were lost (by Tom Brady two plays after Ridley’s fumble, and LeGarrette Blount, three plays after Brady’s miscue) and turned into 10 more points. Nor was he the only running back banished to the bench. Blount would join him.
But Ridley’s miscues are piling up. And the Patriots cannot afford any more of them.
He has lost four fumbles this year, two returned for touchdowns. He knows he cannot continue this trend and remain a vital member of the offense, as he was last year when he rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“I think my team deserves better than what I’m doing out there and putting on the field,’’ said Ridley, who lost two fumbles in 2012. “It’s been consecutive weeks with putting the ball on the ground and, as a running back, you can’t do that. I work too hard to make the small mistakes, and I keep setting myself back and setting this team back.
“The offense depends on me to go out there and get the job done and when I put the ball on the ground, they have no option but to take me out and it’s sickening, honestly. I’m frustrated.’’
Coach Bill Belichick stopped short Monday of saying time had run out on Ridley.
“Ball security is the paramount issue for your football team every week, our football team every week,’’ said Belichick. “We fumbled the ball, whatever it was, six times last night. We can’t go on like that. We just can’t. There were multiple situations and multiple things involved and it hurt us the week before in Carolina.
“We’re just not going to be able to overcome turning the ball over, however you turn it over. Whether it’s fumbles or interceptions or muffed punts or tipped interceptions, whatever it is, fumbled snaps, we just can’t overcome those, not for very long.’’
Belichick continued to say Denver had its issues, too – the Broncos fumbled five times and lost three – but his players needed to take better care of the ball.
Ridley was asked if the weather – wind chill in the single digits – made the ball hard to handle.
“I don’t like excuses,’’ he said. “It was freezing, no doubt about it, but Denver had to play with the cold, too. We can’t make any excuses. We have to fix mistakes and try to do what we need to do to put our team in the best position to win. And over the last few weeks, I haven’t done that. I have to go back to the drawing board and keep grinding.’’
Ridley isn’t the only running back to ever have trouble holding the ball.
Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, considered the best back in the NFL, lost 13 fumbles his first three seasons. He has only six over the last four, but three have come this season.
Former New York Giants back Tiki Barber lost 22 fumbles in a 10-year career, 12 of which came in two seasons.
“That’s part of the game,’’ said Ridley, answering the same questions patiently. “You’re going to have ups, you’re going to have downs. But you’ve got to keep pushing. I’m going to do that. I’m going to compete, I’m going to get it right, I’m going to fix it. I think my best football is in front of me.
“I just have to keep working hard and pushing myself so this team can lean on me.’’
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: