|Jim Rogash/ Getty Images|
Perhaps Josh McDaniels heard the criticism, because the Patriots dramatically altered their approach in yesterday's breakthrough win. After averaging 27 snaps a game for the season, Ridley stayed on the field for 51 snaps. Bolden and Blount got 16 and 8 snaps respectively. Ridley got 26 carries, compared to 5 for Blount and 3 for Bolden.
Ridley even got a second chance after a fumble that allowed the Steelers to get back into the game with a strong third quarter. In past years, a fumble likely would have sent the fourth-year back to the bench, never to be seen again. This time, the team's most talented runner continued to get carries and continued to turn them into yards and first downs.
How did it work? Look at the boxscore. You'll see Ridley carrying the load, with 115 well-earned yards and 2 touchdowns. You'll see Blount (47 yards clock killing yards and an impressive touchdown late) and Bolden (36 yards) chipping in. You'll see 197 rushing yards on 35 attempts.
Relying on Ridley to consistently churn out yards on the ground help the Patriots maintain excellent balance offensively. They ran 35 times, threw 33 times and had tremendous success doing either, leaving Pittsburgh helpless as the Patriots rolled up 629 yards of offense.
Tom Brady lavished praise on the running back following the game.
"He runs so hard. You give it to him, you have so much confidence that you're going to gain yards. He has a great spirit and energy about him, in what he brings to our offense in emotion. When he's confident, it helps our team immeasurably."Coach Belichick noted Ridley's fumble was the result of an excellent play by Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu.
"I thought Stevan did a good job. It was really a tremendous play by Polamalu. Stevan caught his ball with his back to the defender. As he turned, Troy came in there and instead of making a tackle he was able to dislodge the ball. He anticipated Ridley turning up and Troy made a good play on it. I don't think Stevan really had much of a chance to do anything but turn.The decision to "live with" that play was rewarded with continued success on the ground and in the red zone, largely thanks to Ridley's obvious talent. Belichick went on to acknowledge Ridley's production and consistency.
"Sometimes turnovers are a result of real good defensive plays. Sometimes they're a result of sloppy plays offensively. I would, unfortunately, have to credit that one to Polamalu. He made a great play and that's one of those things you have to live with."
"Stevan ran hard, like he always does," he said. "He's a tough runner, he gets his yards, and then he always gets a few more because of his running style and his toughness and his pad level and getting downhill. He gave us that again."Seemingly the only person not talking about Ridley's performance after the game was Ridley himself, who declined to talk to the press. His play on the field spoke loud and clear.