Patriots

Ridley shoulders rushing load

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Ridley shoulders rushing load

FOXBORO -- When the Patriots needed crucial yards on the ground in the second half on Saturday, rookie Stevan Ridley was Bill Belichick's running back of choice.

Ridley finished Saturday's 27-24 win over the Miami Dolphins with a career-high 13 carries. Eleven of those came in the second half. He finished the game with 64 rushing yards. Sixty of those came in the second half.

It marked the second straight week that Ridley led the Patriots in rushing, and had more carries than any other back on the team. Last weekend, Ridley had 11 rushes for 65 yards. And if Saturday showed anything at all, it was that Ridley's speed and improvement has taken carries away from BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, who combined for seven carries and 30 yards on Saturday.

"I think Stevan has run well for us all year," said Belichick after the win. "He had really a couple strong runs today, ran through a couple tackles. There are still a lot of things he could do better, but he made some plays and there are other plays that could have been better. But he runs hard with the ball."

The third-round pick out of LSU has also impressed his offensive linemen.

"He's a great runner," said Donald Thomas, who made his first NFL start since 2009 on Saturday. "Young, energetic, he's going to fight for those yards. And as you saw today, once he gets going, once he gets that little head bobbing, he's trying to get the crowd going, you know he's join got run real good. You've just got to get on your guy, make some guys miss for you. And you saw today, the second half, he showed up.

"There's a reason why he's here. It just says that, when his number's called, he's ready to go. And I think today, he really showed up. He did a great job today.

"Man, that's not the first time," said veteran offensive lineman Brian Waters. "When he's gotten opportunities this season, he's done a really good job. And it doesn't surprise me. There's a reason why they invested a high-quality draft pick in a running back. And he's played some big-time football at LSU. So he knows how to perform. It's just a matter of being consistent with it, and coming back next week and having just the same week of preparation, and being ready to do it again."

So now, the Patriots are getting a better feel for what they have in Ridley. But nobody's ever doubted his talent level. They just hope he continues to improve in his preparation during the week.

"He's definitely improved," said Waters. "But the improvement will come during the week, more than it does on Sunday. I think we all know what type of talent he has on Sunday. But his preparation, as he continues to improve during the week, he's going to be an even better football player."

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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