The Patriots haven't had a reliable ground game element in the playoffs since Corey Dillon in 2004.
You don't need to look any further than their AFC Divisional matchup in 2004 to see the impact a dominant running game can have, especially when your secondary is banged up and you need to control time of possession.
As the elements come into play in the winter months, the Patriots will need Stevan Ridley to elevate his game. Last season, his rookie year, he got a case of "fumblitis" at the end of the year and didn't see another carry after fumbling in the AFC Divisional round against the Broncos.
If you look at the Super Bowl losses to the Giants, the biggest problem was that the Patriots running game was not feared. New York's defensive line was able to pin their ears back and get after Tom Brady.
But this year Ridley has shown a playmaking element that the Patriots haven't had in a while, and if he is able to break some runs in December and January the Pats could be headed back to the Super Bowl.