Stevan Ridley stays strong after benching

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the defining images of Stevan Ridley's 2013 season with the New England Patriots came during a Dec. 1 game against the Houston Texans. The running back who led the team in snaps played the year before watched from the sideline in street clothes, clutching a football throughout.

He was a healthy scratch.

It didn’t seem like a stretch to say that Ridley’s three-year career with the team had officially reached a crossroads at that point, a result of losing a fumble in three straight games.

Ridley mostly kept a low media profile since that time, but that changed on Thursday as he sat at his locker during the time reporters were present in the locker room (1:30-2:15 p.m.), welcoming anyone who approached to discuss “an interesting year” that has been one big “growing pain.”

He started with the Boston Herald. After a short break, it was ESPN.com. When that was over, a horde of reporters circled around him, Ridley’s presence among the group hard to miss because he was wearing a fluorescent yellow athletic top and footwear.

Much like he charges ahead on the field, Ridley didn’t back down from the questions, particularly when it came to what it was like watching on the sidelines Dec. 1.

“For me, I don’t let anything break me, man. I really don’t. I knew what I did to get there,” Ridley said in the 1-on-1 interview. “It wasn’t like Coach Bill [Belichick] just up and decided to bench me for the game. There was a reason for him doing what he did. He’s one of the best coaches to coach this sport, and I respect whatever he puts me through.

“Did I agree with it? No, but that wasn’t my call. I’m the player, and I play. He’s the coach, and he coaches. So whatever I got thrown my way, I had to handle it. It wasn’t a pride thing. There wasn’t any sulking.

“It hurt, you know what I mean? But at the same time, that’s somewhere I don’t ever want to be again. If that’s what is going to fuel me, if that’s what I needed, I have to bounce back strong. I refuse to let this bring me down and control my career. I have to keep fighting and keep battling every day. I’m going to work every day and am going to work hard. I know the player I am and I know the player God created me to be, and I just have to keep pushing it.”

Since the benching, Ridley has played in three games, although his snaps have been down (17, 13, 21). LeGarrette Blount is now starting in his place and playing a bit more.

Most importantly for Ridley, he hasn’t fumbled.

“It’s high and tight, man. I made a few calls and talked to a few people, but let’s be real. I’ve been playing this game a long time. There’s no magic word. There’s no magic fix I can go through. It’s something you just have to grind it out and trust in yourself, the people around you, and trust in God. He’s going to put you through some things,” Ridley said.

“You’re going to go through some adversity in life, in your job, in whatever you do, but it’s how you bounce back from that. You just have to keep it moving. For me, it’s holding the ball high and tight. If I keep the ball high and tight, the chances of the ball coming out is way less.”

Here is the rest of Ridley’s interview, in Q&A form:

Given all that’s happened this season, how are you hanging in there?

Ridley: “I’m really doing well. It’s been an interesting year. For me, it’s been a growing pain. I wasn’t expecting the year to go this way, but hey, it did. But also, all of that is in the past. I can’t sulk on the mistakes I made, just like I can’t sit on the past successes that I’ve had. I just have to keep it moving. For me, I’m very aware of what I did to put myself in the position that I did. I’m a competitor. I’m going to keep working. I really believe in the bottom of my heart that God put me here for a reason. I say to everybody, ‘I don’t think God will ever put you through anything more than you can handle.’ You’ve never talked to one player who has played this game and said it was going to be easy. You’re going to have your tough times, but it’s how you bounce back from it. My goal from here on out is to try to go out there and have a strong ending to this season, and I think that will erase all that’s been done in the past, if we can go out and do what we really want to do as a team. For us, we’re going to take it one game at a time. I can’t look back. I’m not looking too far forward. I’m focused on Buffalo and getting this win this week.”

How are you balancing that your playing time numbers are down, but when you’re on the field, there has been some solid production?

Ridley: “For me, I can only control what I can control. I think the biggest thing I keep in my mind is that whenever they put the ball in my hands, I have to go out there and make a play. I have to try to make something happen. It’s not trying to go out there and do anything that’s over my head, but it’s playing sound football, holding on to the football, making my runs, making the right reads, being where I need to be in the passing game, being sound in my blitz pickup, trying from this point to be error-free. I think if I can play error-free, and our team plays error-free football, it helps us to be successful going into this postseason.”

Who have you talked to about the fumbling?

Ridley: “If you want to be real, man, I got on my knees and prayed about it. I really did. Behind that, I talked to Kevin Faulk. I talked to my old high school coach [David King]. I talked to my dad. I talked to Coach McDaniels. I’ve talked to everybody. For me, it was a mistake that I made.”

Was the mistake spinning in the hole instead of keeping your pads down?

Ridley: “The ball’s out, however you want to slice it. It’s unacceptable at my position. For me, all you can do is man up, accept it, and hope like hell you get another shot to prove yourself. When they came back to me, I have to go out there and make a play and make sure I hold on to the football. As long as I do that going forward, I think I’ll be OK.”

Was there anything to you holding on to the football on the sideline in Houston?

Ridley: “It was nothing more than what it was, but of course, when I’m on the sideline because I’m fumbling people are going to notice I have a ball in my hands. I carry a ball and touch a ball every day. I carry it with me. It’s not going to hurt me to hold it a little bit more – if I’m at practice, at home or at the facility. The more I can hold it, squeeze it, the better. If that’s going to keep my mind on it, keep me focused, keep me aware, then that’s what I’m going to do. I have to do whatever I have to do to get myself back on the field, and make sure I keep it moving and keep on having success.”

As a group, you guys ran the ball very well against the Ravens. Would that be the way you want the story to end – being a big part of a running game that helps the team accomplish the ultimate goal?

Ridley: “I said it at the beginning of the year, our room has to be a room they can depend on, regardless of if it’s me, or some other guys. Regardless, our running back room has to get the job done. Last week was good. It was a big step for this team – not just for our offense, but our team – defense, offense, special teams, all three phases. For us going forward, we have to continue to be that rock. We can’t make mistakes. If we can eliminate the mistakes in our room, our job is done. That’s how I look at it. Nobody is any bigger and nobody is any less than anyone else in that room. We are all in this for the team, for the Patriots, and to try to win. That’s the biggest thing for us – to be solid. If you can do a little extra, if you can find a way to tighten your game up that much more, that’s what we need to do going forward.”