FOXBORO - Stevan Ridley has run the gamut this season. He's gone from trusted and productive running back to a sideline pariah - and now, suddenly, back to his former status.
He certainly earned that with his performance on the last meaningful offensive drive by the Patriots last Sunday in Baltimore, while the game was relatively close.
He and LeGarrette Blount shared the running on a nine-play, 48-yard drive that took 4:32 off the clock and eventually brought the Patriots to a 27-7 lead. And his 8-yard carry on second-and-8 that brought the Patriots to the Baltimore 16 was a thing of beauty - grinding, pushing, straining and back-pedaling with several Ravens attached, failing to prevent him from gaining a crucial first down.
That was a far cry from the Ridley whose fumble-prone nature had earned him an embarrassing healthy scratch against Houston, where he could be seen on the sidelines clinging to a football as if serving a penance.
"God will never put you through anything more than you can handle," Ridley said Thursday during a break in preparation for the regular-season finale Sunday against the Buffalo Bills (4:25 p.m.; Ch. 4, 12). "For me, it wasn't what I wanted, but I know why I got there. It wasn't like coaches woke up and decided to, hey, let's bench Stevan Ridley today. I put myself there.
"But for me, it's about not letting past mistakes hold you down," he said. "You're going to have adversity. You're going to have stuff that you're going to go through. It's about how you bounce back from that as a person."
Ridley remains the Patriots' leading rusher this year with 699 yards on 166 carries (4.2-yard average) and seven touchdowns, but his four lost fumbles has limited the trust the coaches have in him.
But when the coaches turned to him and Blount to get the job done in the Baltimore game, Ridley knew that not only he, but the running backs as a unit, had a chance for redemption.
"When we have the chance to go in there and run the football against a defense that struggles with the run, we have to go in there and be strong at the run," he said. "If they're weak at the pass, we have to be able to attack them through the air. But whatever it is that we have to attack to get the win, that's how we're going to attack them.
"Following those big boys up front and having that big drive we had last week to wear them down and run behind our offensive line, it was a step in the right direction," he said. "And like we said, these next few games are crucial games that we have coming up. So whatever we have to do to keep the momentum going, that's what we're going to have to do as a team."
There was no underestimating how important Ridley's five carries were during that crucial drive.
"It was a step," he said. "It was a big step as a team. I try not to focus much as an individual, but for us as a team it was big. It was the way we closed that game out, and also being in Baltimore, that was a tough place to play. That's a good football team, and for us, that was a big challenge."
As much as Ridley would prefer to keep the performance in a "team" context, there's no escaping his personal downfall and need for redemption. After rushing for 1,263 yards in his second pro year, his third was taking a path toward disaster before last weekend.
"Of course, man, getting your game time cut and being benched and being on the sideline isn't anything that anybody wants to go through," he said. "So you have to battle back. 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.
"When they call my number, I have to go out there and be a solid player," he said. "And being a solid player is also not making small mistakes that have been costly. So regardless of the good that you bring to the game, you have to realize that mistakes will cancel that. So for me, you have to go through this, you have to learn, you have to move on."
Ridley said he has sought out help from various sources, including former Patriots' third-down back Kevin Faulk and his high school coach from Natchez, Miss., to try to conquer his fumbleitis. One course of action is obvious.
"Hold on tight, man," he said. "That's all I can tell you because there's no magic, there's not one thing that I can do to change the player that I am. I have to just go out there and play ball.
"Honestly, I just spend a lot of my time on my knees praying about it and talking to the people that I knew were close to me," he said. "The bad times will pass, too, just like the good ones. It's all in the past. Coming up in these upcoming games we're trying to be mistake-free, and if we can be mistake-free it definitely gives us the upper hand and a better chance at winning the ball game, and that's all I'm trying to do."
Ridley hopes that this personal challenge will make him a better player going forward.
"I love what I do, I love the sport that I play and God put me here," he said. "So for me, I can't sit on the past, whether it's success or whether it's something that I don't want. For me, it's about focusing on these upcoming weeks because I think that if we finish this year the way we want to finish this year, nobody will really remember in the past."