FOXBOROUGH – Stevan Ridley hasn't talked much to reporters this season, especially after fumbling in three straight games led to his being benched for the Patriots' game against Houston earlier this month.
But on Thursday, the raspy-voiced Mississippi native, whose 1,263 yards in 2012 was the fourth-best rushing performance in franchise history, spoke to reporters about how he's handled the ups and downs of the season and tried to get back into the coaching staff's good graces.
"You know, I just really believe this – God will never put you through anything more than you can handle. And for me, it wasn’t what I wanted but I know why I got there. It’s not like coach just woke up and decided, ‘hey, let’s bench Stevan Ridley today.’ I put myself there," Ridley said, speaking in front of his locker. "But for me, it’s about not letting past mistakes hold you down. I think life brings you that – you’re going to have adversity, you’re going to have stuff that you’re going to go through, it’s how you bounce back from it as a person.
"I love what I do, I love the sport that I play, and God put me here. So for me, I can’t sit on the past, whether it’s success or whether it’s something I don’t want. But for me, it’s focusing on these upcoming weeks, because I think if we finish this year the way we want to finish this year, no one will really remember what happened in the past. But it’s going to take a total team effort. It’s not just about me; it’s about the running back room in general being strong, whoever the number is back there – whether it’s Shane (Vereen), whether it’s Brandon (Bolden), whether it’s (LeGarrette) Blount or whether it’s me, whoever it is, we have to be accountable and we have to go out there and be a strong point for this team."
A third-round pick out of Louisiana State in 2011, Ridley fumbled in the season opener against Buffalo and it was returned for a touchdown. He also fumbled in successive games against Steelers, Panthers and Broncos, all recovered by the opponent, and all led to points.
Ridley did not step onto the field again after his miscue against the Broncos, and then found himself a spectator a week later, in street clothes on the Patriots' sideline as they played the Texans in Houston.
He said "of course, man" when asked if he felt he had to prove himself to coaches after his benching.
"Getting your playing time cut and being benched and on the sideline isn’t anything that anybody wants to go through, so you have to battle back. But it’s nothing that’s going to be given to you – you have to go out there and work every day and I can only control what I can control," Ridley said. "Like I said, when they call my number I have to go out there and be a solid player, and being a solid player is also not making small mistakes that are very costly. So regardless of the good that you bring to the game, you have to realize that mistakes will also cancel that. So for me, it’s just you have to grow from this, you have to learn, you have to move on."
He also talked to mentor and former teammate Kevin Faulk, who made the trip from Louisiana to Houston to watch New England play and meet with Ridley, as well as his high school coach, to help himself stay on track mentally. He also just prayed.
"I relied on my faith and what’s gotten me to this point, and for me, I can’t make it a mental block. I’ve been playing this game way too long, but that doesn’t put me above making mistakes," he said. "Even when you make mistakes, you have to try to go out there and fix them and try your best not to repeat them, so for me, it’s just going out there and practicing hard and working hard and like I said, I just have to squeeze that much tighter and hold on, but I’m still going to run the ball aggressive and I’m still going to do my job and what this team needs me to do. If the ball is high and tight I think the coaches will be happy and there will be less turnovers and we’re all sitting here having a great day, so I just have to keep pushing."
A powerful runner, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound back has always known that protecting the football is job No. 1 for him. He said, "hold on tight" when asked about balancing his running style with the need to hold onto the football, and added that there's no other magic formula, just keep the ball high and tight.
After getting eight carries each against the Browns and Dolphins, the first two games after his benching, Ridley had 15 carries for 54 yards against Baltimore last week, the most opportunities he's gotten since the Pittsburgh game.
Five carries against the Ravens came on the Patriots' last offensive drive, when they pounded out a 48-yard touchdown, all of it on rushes by Ridley and Blount.
"It was a step. It was a big step," Ridley said of that last possession. "For us as a team it was big to close out the game the way we closed out that game, and also being in Baltimore, that’s a tough place to play, that’s a good football team. And for us, that was a big challenge and I think we stepped up to the challenge and we did what we had to do. But all that to say – none of that matters this week; we’ve got to go out there and we have to handle the Bills.
"So we had some good signs, we had some things that we liked, but we’re going to have to play football this week against the Bills and that’s a great defense that’s coming in here who get to the quarterback, they’re very active, and it’s also a team that knows us very well."
Did he take his increased workload as a sign of confidence from the coaching staff?
"It’s better than being on the sideline, let’s say that," he said.
During a conversation with the Globe in the days leading up to the Texans game, Ridley said adversity happens to every NFL player and every person, and that he "absolutely" was not going to start believing that he had a fumbling problem.
He said much the same on Thursday in regard to whether he ever got rattled over the last month or so, as he saw his playing time taken away.
"There’s a reason why I was there – there was no point to be rattled. I mean, if I said it didn’t bother me I’d be lying, but that’s part of it. I don’t know one single player that you go and talk to right now that’s played this sport that hasn’t gone through some kind of adversity. Every single one of us," he said. "Whatever form it is, we’ve gone through some kind of adversity.
"But the good ones find a way to shake back. The good ones find a way to make things happen. And not make the same mistakes. And that’s what I have to do if I want to be a good running back, regardless of what I’ve done in the past, regardless of the mistakes I’ve made, it’s all about this point forward and what I do."