As he headed south for a long weekend away from work with plans to see his high school and college teams play, Stevan Ridley did so as the AFC’s leading rusher through the midway point of the season.
The second-year back has 150 carries for 716 yards and five touchdowns in the first eight games of the season, his first as the Patriots’ lead running back and a key part of a reinvigorated ground game.
Ridley’s 716 yards are fourth-most in the NFL behind Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (775 yards), Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (757) and Washington rookie Alfred Morris (717), and his 4.8 yards per carry is also near the top of the list for backs with 100 or more carries.
He’s on pace to run for 1,432 yards, which would be the fourth-best rushing performance in Patriots history.
The Mississippi native with the colorful personality (he’s made grown-up onesies all the rage in the running backs room) said he never saw himself leading the conference.
“I never would have thought that in a million years, to be honest,” Ridley said. “But I’m very fortunate and the Lord’s blessed me and I just go out there and run the football and I look up right now and like you said, leading the AFC in rushing. It’s a dream come true for me, to be out here every day. To say that I saw that? No, not at all, I’d be lying.
“But I’ve got a lot of work to do in front of me…I’m looking forward to the next eight (games) that we have.”
Running backs coach Ivan Fears pointed to passion as a big part of Ridley’s success, now and going forward.
“The biggest thing about Stevan is that he’s very passionate about the game. Stevan loves to play and I think that’s his first and biggest asset,” Fears said. “There’s no doubt – on a game day, he is there. He is mentally in the right frame of mind to play the game. I think as long as he’s got that kind of passion for the game, he’s going to do the little things that he needs to do to be physically ready to play the game. He’s maturing.
“He was a young guy when he came in and he’s figuring it out. He’s figuring out how to be a professional athlete. He’s figuring out what it takes to be a professional athlete. That’s what you like to have.”
Though he is on pace for 300 carries, which would make him the first Patriots running back to get the ball that many times since Corey Dillon in his record-setting 2004 season (345 carries, 1,635 yards), Ridley isn’t feeling the effects of his increased workload.
“Body feels great. I’m still playing football, still on the field, so as long as I’m not missing any playing time it’s 100 percent. I’m just thankful to be healthy and thankful to be in my position where I am,” he said.
Though it has had its share of fourth-quarter struggles, the Patriots’ offense is on pace to post yet another season of stellar numbers. But like every other player and echoing the thoughts of his head coach, Ridley sees areas for improvement.
“We’re working, man. We’re three games away from being 8-0, so for us we’re close but some days we come up short and that’s the game of football,” he said. “I don’t think we’re really that far off at anything that we’re doing but we need to improve on the small things, and that’s what coach always tells us: the last few plays are the minor plays that make the biggest difference in our game. So for us that’s what we have to improve on, on offense and defense.”