Forget the guilt, Ridley just needs to play football

“It’s a mistake, it’s something that I messed up on, but that’s why I say it’s going to show ultimately how much of a man I really am because I have to overcome this. I have to get better from this. And if I don’t improve, it’s going to cost me my job down the line and I don’t want that."

Those are the words spoken by New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley to Shalise Manza Young of the in an interview earlier this week in regard to his supposed case of chronic fumblitis - and they also are words typically spoken by any man throughout history who has felt guilt, as if they have let down the people who are important to him - and it is always wrong.

Ridley has nothing to prove about being a man and he has nothing to prove to anyone regarding anything - not even to himself, because if he allows this to be the case, then it has dominion over him and it will never go away.  He has to trust himself, and he can't do that if there's even an ounce of doubt in his psyche.

And trust is such a fickle thing to begin with.

For example, the fans trust in Tom Brady as long as he's throwing touchdown passes.  Tom Brady trusts in Tom Brady no matter what.

Never mind that he's thrown 130 interceptions in his career and don't even give his 35 lost fumbles a second thought - in his 14th season, the certain Hall of Fame quarterback has personally coughed up 165 turnovers - and as few as three weeks ago he was a washed up has-been with declining arm strength and a desperate need for anger management...

...but now, after generating a couple of comebacks and looking more like what fans and media have come to expect, he's back to being the greatest quarterback who ever lived and his arm is just as strong as it's ever been, what with throwing tight spirals into tropical storm force winds.  Brady never doubted himself, and he knew that if he just kept doing things the way that he is capable, the hard times would pass.

Brady knows about the hard times, he also knows that doing things right and winning football games eventually causes the fan base to develop a certain degree of amnesia - which is what Ridley needs to do.

Brady has stuck by him, and coach Bill Belichick has indicated - in his own cryptic way - that he thinks Ridley can work through it - even former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk, himself a victim of the fumble bug early in career, has reached out to the third year back out of LSU...

...but Ridley should ignore everything that all of the outside influences are telling him, all the criticism and all of the well meaning suggestions and just play football.

All Ridley wants to do is get back on the field and redeem himself, but the frequency of his fumbling has led to fans and media alike making up their own aphorisms for his woes - such as, only two things can happen when Stevan Ridley runs with the football...

...the first being Ridley exploding through the hole and galloping as far as he can get once breaking free on the second level and the second - well - the ball hits the ground. No one is going to let him forget that he makes them cringe every time he touches the ball.

Fair or not, Ridley has handled the ball 144 times this season, 140 times having the desired outcome - but it's the 4 times that haven't that has Patriots' nation abuzz.  Brady has handled the ball 456 times with seven fumbles and seven interceptions, and Julian Edelman has yakked up the ball five times in 63 touches, yet everyone is focused on Ridley.

Faulk wants to help.  Knee-jerk, reactionary fans and media want him gone. The Patriots' themselves know the score, however, and want to help Ridley work through his case of butterfingers, but he already knows what he has to do.

“I can’t make light of the situation that is obviously an issue, but am I going to start believing that I have a fumbling problem and that’s something I can’t overcome? Absolutely not."

Ridley does not have a fumbling problem, but he does have a problem with people telling him he has a fumbling problem, he also has a problem with finishing runs - and that is the real issue here.

As discussed here , Ridley's issues are a matter of technique - in short, not finishing what he starts.  The hand offs are flawless, and one never sees the ball pop out from his arms while he's exploding through the hole like a Jack-in-the-box - where the problem arises is when Ridley falls out of character, trying to spin out of tackles or attempting to juke a would-be tackler out of his socks...

...both leaving the ball exposed away from his body, an open invitation to take a swipe at the valuable pig skin.  And the fact that defenders know to look for him to do either makes the possibility that it's going happen even greater.

"(Ridley) is more of a downhill back who is at his best pressing the line quickly and getting into the second level." wrote Wes Bunting of the National Football Post in his pre-draft evaluation of Ridley. "Runs hard and has some natural strength in his lower half when asked to push the pile and break tackles inside. However, exhibits only average lateral ability inside. Displays very average one-cut ability when asked to set up blocks or make a man miss. But, consistently allows his pad level to rise, exposes some of his frame."

What Patriots' coaches and fans expect from Ridley is what Ridley does best, and what Ridley was drafted for:  Run the ball straight ahead, staying small and delivering a punishing blow to the tackler.  The ball stays high and tight and the defender ends up on his ass.

Stevan Ridley doesn't need to listen to anyone, he doesn't need to show anyone how much of a man he is - he just needs to do what he does best, and leave the ankle-breaking moves to the backs that do that best.

Photo Credit - Keith Nordstrom/New England Patriots