FOXBORO - A long time ago, Curtis Martin debuted in the Patriots' backfield in a season-opening game against the Cleveland Browns with a 30-yard run on his first carry. By game's end, the future Hall of Fame running back would have 102 rushing yards to his credit.
As reporters clustered around Martin in the cramped locker room inside Foxboro Stadium, then-coach Bill Parcells strolled by and not-so-jokingly referred to Martin as a "one-game wonder."
Then, during the week that followed, Parcells chided the media corps for its fawning reviews of the rookie's performance, telling the reporters, "Let's not go putting him in Canton yet, fellas."
That was 17 years ago, but there's a thread of similarity that runs between Martin's impressive debut and Stevan Ridley's spectacular sophomore-year start.
Just as Martin knew he had not truly accomplished anything as yet, Ridley knows he is still a work in progress after opening his second NFL season with a 21-carry, 125-yard performance in Sunday's win over the Tennessee Titans.
"I've got to continue working," Ridley said Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. "Keep on grinding, and I can't keep looking at the past. That's over with, and I've got to get on to Arizona and focus on the upcoming week."
The Patriots got off to a great start in their season-opening, 34-13 win over the Titans, and now it's on to the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at Gillette (1 p.m.; Ch. 25, 64), a team that has won eight of its last 10 games - second-best in the NFL to the Patriots' 9-1 mark over that span.
"They're an athletic bunch, a physical bunch, and they're a team that will play with us for all four quarters," Ridley said. "They're going to come in here intending to win, and we've got to come in and defend our house."
Ridley's rushing effort was the best of his career, coming in only his third NFL start even though he appeared in all 16 regular-season games a year ago. The fact that he had a year to get his feet wet in the NFL may have helped him approach Sunday's game with the confidence he needed to go from "contributing factor" to "impact player."
"My position, you can't play the position being scared," Ridley said. "You're going to take a lot of contact, but as a runner, you can kind of deliver the blow instead of taking the hit. Your career might last a little longer. That's kind of my philosophy of running the ball, I'm trying to get downhill and deliver the punch instead of taking all the beatings."
He said he had an inkling he'd see the ball a lot against the Titans, but 21 carries (and two catches for 27 yards) was still a surprise.
"The coach had said something about it, but I didn't know it was going to be 21 carries I just go in there, and when they call for (number) 22, I've got to make a play," he said. "I can't predict the future on any of that. I'm just out there playing my role and doing my job.
"If it's working and we're doing a good job at it, I'm sure Coach is going to continue to call those plays. That's what he did this past Sunday. He puts us in a position to be successful and to go out there and win the ballgame. For me, I just do my job. I'm not trying to be Superman or do anything over the top."
Ridley also offered due praise to the offensive line, which has been a frequent topic of discussion since the start of training camp. The line, despite having new starters at three of the five positions, played with the unity and cohesiveness that many feared would not be there at the start of the season.
"I think they did an exceptional job," Ridley said. "They did a great job of protecting Brady and they did a great job in the run game. A hundred yards on the ground is not possible without the offensive line and some receivers that are blocking downfield.
"It's a team effort, it takes 11 of us across the board, and like I said, I just did my job and pulled my load," he added. "It took 10 other guys for me to get those hundred yards on the ground."
For his part, and like Parcells before him, Patriots' coach Bill Belichick isn't ready to put anyone into the Hall of Fame quite yet. Wednesday, when asked a question about the solid performances Sunday of rookies such as defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower, Belichick was quick to remind everyone that there's still a long way to go before any of them can be considered consistent pro performers. And even though Ridley was not mentioned by name, it's very likely Belichick had the second-year veteran from Louisiana State in mind as well.
"I don't think any rookie has all the answers after one game," Belichick said. "I don't think any experienced coach has the answers after one game either. I mean, it's one game. Everybody needs to be coached, everybody needs to improve, there are a lot of things that everybody needs to do better, and I would put the rookies at the absolute top of that list.
"Like not behind anybody," he added. "They would be No. 1. It's going to get a lot harder for them before it gets easier, I'll tell you that."