Stevan Ridley rushed for 98 yards Sunday afternoon as the New England Patriots just barely sneaked by the Buffalo Bills, 37-31. Ridley now has 814 yards on the season, good for just over 90 yards per game.
Entering 2012, there were some questions about what the running back situation would look like in the absence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent. Green-Ellis has just 537 yards and a lowly 3.4 yards per carry average on the season. Ridley has been good for a strong 4.7.
Ridley has dispelled the idea that running backs are irrelevant in New England's dynamic, pass-heavy offense. Ridley has now put himself on pace for over 1,400 yards, which would put him at the fourth best season in franchise history at worst. Corey Dillon, Curtis Martin and Jim Nance each previously hit the 1,400 mark one time apiece with the Patriots.
The odd thing is he has as many receptions as he does rushing touchdowns on the season with six. That is certainly the one area Ridley will look to improve as he becomes a complete back in the National Football League. With Danny Woodhead featured in the third-down/spread back role, Ridley is not often called upon as a receiver, but he could sure up his hands and route-running for when Tom Brady looks his way.
Fumbling is also an issue some point to in Ridley's game. This is a bit of an unfair criticism. Yes, he has two fumbles in nine games, not perfect. It is important to remember, though, that fumbles do happen, and they are a part of the game.
You know whose game they were also a part of?
Dillon fumbled five times in 2004, losing four of them, on the way to his 1,635 yards—the greatest season in franchise history for a running back.
Ridley has already gone more than a month without a fumble, but may need to go even longer before it is completely off people's minds. The key to remember with Ridley is that, like Kevin Faulk or Tiki Barber, fumbling is not a problem that can never be solved.
Ridley may not be a complete back yet, but he is well on his way. The luxury for the New England Patriots is that he has already emerged as one of the top runners in the NFL while he is still developing. No. 22, at the age of 23, could be a very good runner for a very long time.