FOXBORO - Understandably, Stevan Ridley hasn't wanted to talk to the media lately. When things are going badly, it's not unusual to want to circle the wagons - and that's exactly what Ridley did (politely, of course) when reporters approached his locker Thursday.
But Shane Vereen said that he and his fellow running backs have Ridley's back.
"Everyone has their ups and downs," Vereen said. "That's part of the game. When you're down you need teammates, you need friends to bring you back up to where you should be."
Ridley was inactive last week at Houston because of his ongoing fumbling problems. As the Patriots prepare for the Cleveland Browns this Sunday (1 p.m.; Ch. 4, 12), it doesn't appear that Ridley (who has 576 rushing yards on 135 carries this year) is any closer to regaining the trust of the coaching staff than he was a week ago.
Vereen, who has made a nice splash since coming off the short-term injured-reserve list just before the Carolina game on Nov. 18, said he and the rest of the position group are solidly behind their struggling comrade.
"As a running back group we're pretty close," he said. "No one's too far down, no one's too high up. Everybody helps each other and keeps each other going.
"Stevan is a great player," he added. "We're there when he needs us, but he knows what he has to do and we fully expect him to do that."
In the meantime, the backs were overjoyed to see other contributions - such as fullback James Develin's stirring 1-yard touchdown run to start the second half against the Texans.
"It's awesome," Vereen said of Develin's first pro score, in which he bounced off five would-be tacklers before diving into the end zone and starting the Patriots' second-half comeback to a 34-31 victory. "We were so happy. When we watched it again we gave him a little more praise. But he's a humble guy. He just took as that's what he's supposed to do, but everyone was really excited for him. A play like that definitely lifts up the group and the team."
With the weather turning cold and four games left on the docket (three of which should be competed in chilly conditions), Vereen and his teammates know that this is their cue to make larger contributions.
"I think with any offense, the running game is an important part, especially with ours because we rely on it," Vereen said. "With the weather change there's a little more emphasis on it, but for us, still, it's a key part of our offense."
Vereen has taken over the third-down role that was previously the domain of Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead. Active in just four games this year, he has 177 rushing yards on 35 carries and 28 receptions for 220 yards.
But as he said Thursday, neither he nor his fellow backs are pigeonholed into just one role.
"I think everybody prepares to do everything," he said. "There are certain things some guys feel more comfortable doing, I would say, but everybody prepares the same. Prepare in all roles of the game, that way when you're put in, you know what to do."
He also said that thoughts of his broken wrist, suffered in the first game of the season, are a thing of the past.
"I feel good," he said. "I haven't had any problems with it or any issues with it. Really, I haven't thought too much about it at all."