No (fumble) Problem Here

Patriots RB Stevan Ridley has a bad rap as one back who cannot hold onto the ball says Patriots Insider Kevin Saleeba.

     Stevan Ridley has gotten a bad fumble rap.

     Ridley's predecessor as New England's number one running back was BenJarvus Green-Ellis. After rushing the football more than 500 times in his NFL career for the Patriots, Green-Ellis never fumbled the football.

     So it came to a great shock to Patriots fans and the local media when Ridley fumbled last year in the final game of the regular season at Buffalo and in the Divisional playoff game against Denver. Football fans and experts in these parts became unsure what they were seeing. Green-Ellis created an unrealistic expectation when it came to running backs and fumbles by simply never doing it. So when another running back, such as Ridley, put the ball on the ground twice, he was immediately and unfairly labeled as fumble prone.

Ridley at Patriots Training camp
(Kevin Saleeba/
     With Green-Ellis leaving the Patriots as a free agent, most Patriots pundits seem to think Ridley can fill the void as the starting running back, but always finish their analysis with the sentence "as long as he doesn't fumble." You can say that about any running back. It's just not a fair criticism in Ridley's case.

     So the question is simple, is Ridley truly a fumble risk? In 16 games during his rookie season, he rushed the ball 87 times with seven kickoff returns, and three receptions with one fumble.

     The fumble came during the aforementioned Buffalo game in Week 17. During that rush, Ridley attempted to split two defenders, Buffalo defensive backs George Wilson and Aaron Williams, in the open field at the 50 yard line. As he crossed the 50 and successfully split the two defenders, Williams was able to hit Ridley's right arm, causing the ball to pop out and bounce harmlessly out of bounds. He was sandwiched between two defenders and it was hardly a careless fumble. Williams made a great defensive play on the ball.

     The playoff game fumble came off a reception. Ridley, who was lined up as a receiver, had to run back to the line-of-scrimmage to catch the ball thrown by Tom Brady on the Broncos 20-yard-line. He had his back to the Denver cornerback who grabbed Ridley from behind. As Ridley was falling forward to the ground, two other Broncos defenders converged on a defenseless Ridley and simply nail him and the ball to cause the fumble.

     Following that fumble, Ridley found himself on the bench. "You look back and you learn your mistakes," Ridley told the media during training camp. "The two fumbles on the ground you can't have. This is a new year and you can't live in the past, but you certainly have to remember what got you on the bench."

     Granted, Ridley fumbled twice, but running backs fumble. Even the great ones fumble. In 2004, while Corey Dillon rushed for a Patriots franchise record 1,635 yards, he also tied a career season-high with five fumbles that year. The previous team record holder was Hall of Famer Curtis Martin in 1995, who rushed for 1,487 yards, but he also had five fumbles that season.

Patriots Stevan Ridley v Buccaneers Aug 24, 2012
(Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

     Certainly it's far too soon to put Ridley in the category of Dillon and Martin, but all running backs are going to fumble. What gets lost are the 441 yards he rushed for on only 87 attempts and averaging 5.1 yards a carry in 2011.

     "Nobody wants to fumble," Ridley said. "As a running back, that's the worst thing to have the ball on the ground. You try not to make an issue and you just go out there and continue to play football and bounce back."

     To label Ridley a fumble risk so soon in his career is unfair. Green-Ellis was more the fumble-less exception than the norm. Ridley will exceed 1,200 yards this season and a couple fumbles won't taint his accomplishments.

Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots.

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