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Stevan Ridley: Patriots Back Answers Questions in Impressive Performance

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 9:   Stevan Ridley #22 of the New England Patriots is tackled by Robert Johnson #32 of the Tennessee Titans during the season opener at LP Field on September 8, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Patriots defeated the Titans 34 to 13.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Drew BonifantAnalyst IISeptember 10, 2012

With each quick burst through the line or defense-freezing juke that Stevan Ridley delivered Sunday, the notion became harder and harder to dispute.

The New England Patriots have a running game, folks.

A high-flying offense with a gun-slinging quarterback, plethora of targets and pass-happy offensive coordinator can now add "balance" to its list of qualifications.

There's no doubt about that now, not with the way Ridley carved up the Tennessee Titans in a 34-13 win. The 2010 third-round pick was terrific, running with a potent combination of speed, agility and power. He burned the defense on sweeps around the corner, slipped through holes up the middle and was able to pack a punch for defenders who dared to take him on one-on-one.

He finished with 125 yards on 21 carries, averaging just under six yards a carry. He benefited often from spread-out defenses trying to stop Tom Brady's passing game, but he was also able to break through the Titans' run defense fronts.

In short, Tennessee didn't have an answer for him. But Ridley had an answer for some questions pundits have had about New England's run game.

None of those questions were whether Ridley was capable of such an afternoon, though. The Patriots saw this type of running from the back at spots last year, when he ran for 441 yards at 5.1 yards a pop. So anyone who watched the team last year knew that Sunday wasn't the first time Ridley looked as good as he did.

But people wondered if Ridley could do so while handling the bulk of the running load. Sure, as the change-of-pace back paired with the more conventional BenJarvus Green-Ellis, he would have his impressive moments.

But yesterday, Ridley ran the 21 times while the next busiest back was Danny Woodhead with six carries. It was all Ridley. In the running game, he was the guy.

In the meantime, the Patriots showed that they could get along as a team without their former featured back in Green-Ellis. It was wondered how the Patriots would do it, whether one player would emerge or whether they'd try to groom a good overall effort from a rotation made up of Ridley, Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden.

If the plan is to hand the keys going forward to Ridley, he showed yesterday he can handle it.

It was the perfect way to bounce back from a sour ending to last year, when Ridley fumbled in his final two games and was left on inactive list or bench by Bill Belichick the rest of the postseason. Yesterday, Belichick trusted the second-year player with the ground duties, and he delivered.

It's just the kind of threat this Patriots offense needs. It was wondered if Ridley could be the No. 1 guy. One day later, consider those questions answered.

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