Ridley Has to Solve Fumbling Riddle

The 2nd-year back is having a strong season

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    After attempting 65 passes in Sunday night's loss to the 49ers, quarterback Tom Brady was missing from practice Wednesday. It's the first time all season Brady, who was listed with a right shoulder injury, that Brady didn't take part in practice but there's no fear that he won't play against the Jaguars this week.

    A bigger backfield concern: running back Stevan Ridley's inability to hold onto the ball. He's fumbled twice in the last two games, and he was visibly upset after he lost the ball against the 49ers with the Patriots trailing 17-3. (It didn't help that, a play later, San Francisco running back Frank Gore recovered a fumble from quarterback Colin Kaepernick and had the presence of mind to run it into the end zone from three yards out.)

    "We've got to fix our mistakes, starting with me," Ridley said after the game. "You can make excuses, or (you can) man up and say, 'We messed up.' And that's what we did today."

    Turnovers have become the double-edged sword of backfield playmakers. It's rare that you get a back capable of taking one to the house from anywhere on the field without the ever-looming threat that he might fumble it.

    Yes, BenJarvis Green-Ellis absolutely refused to fumble, but he was also a plodder. That's not a bad thing, especially in an offense that features Tom Brady, but BJGE is now with the Bengals and coach Bill Belichick used second- and third-round picks in 2011 on Ridley and Shane Vereen. He might as well get his money's worth. With the obvious caveats: "There's nothing more important than possession of the ball," he said. "We can't afford to lose it. It's as simple as that."

    We've talked about this phenomenon before -- Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall and Philly's Bryce Brown are great examples. The former was a first-round pick, the latter a seventh-round afterthought, but both are dynamic players who struggle to secure the ball. We've written this in regards to Brown but it pertains to Ridley too: for an idea of your future, look to Mendenhall. He lost two fumbles in four carries against the Browns earlier this year and found himself demoted to third team behind a former sixth-rounder and an undrafted free agent. He's still the best back on the roster but it doesn't matter if he hold the football like he's carrying a pizza.

    Ridley gives the Patriots something they haven't had in a long, long time: an explosive back that complicates things for the defense. But turnovers won't be tolerated. He knows this, obviously; whether he can do something about it is another issue entirely.