Patriots

Ridley's big night marred by late fumble

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Ridley's big night marred by late fumble

FOXBORO -- Stevan Ridley had just finished the best game of his professional career, but his demeanor afterward belied his performance. Sullenly, he stood in front of his locker, transforming it into a football confessional. He was there to declare that he had sinned.

"It didn't end the way I wanted it to," Ridley said sheepishly.

Not even 151 yards rushing -- a career high -- and a touchdown could take the sting out of what Ridley did near the end of the fourth quarter. Given a chance to run out the clock and put the Broncos away, Ridley fumbled. He was asked to be his team's closer, and he failed.

The Broncos did not take advantage of Ridley's error, lucky for him. Denver running back Willis McGahee coughed up his own fumble seven plays later deep in New England territory, and the Patriots went on to win, 31-21.

Still, Ridley focused more on his untimely drop than on his 28 bruising -- and, at times, electric -- carries.

"It was late in the game. You gotta close it out. You gotta run the football," Ridley said. "You know, I told myself before the play 'I gotta hold onto the football' before I went out on that series. But the Broncos are getting paid to play, too. You can't make any excuses. I messed up. I'm sure coach Bill Belichick is going to have something to say about it, but like I said, it's always another day tomorrow. I'll be back to work and work on ball security high and tight. That's all I can do."

The fumble was a harsh reminder of the fumbling problems Ridley had at the end of last season. Then a rookie, the miscues weren't crippling. He wasn't the team's lead back, and the Patriots weren't without one of their stars when they decided to keep him off the field for the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.

But now he's solidified his place as New England's top runner -- he's rushed for over 100 yards in three games this season -- and the ball-security issues persist. He fumbled out of bounds in Week 4 against the Bills, and it happened again on Sunday.

"That fumble in the end man, that really does, that kills me," Ridley said. "That's something that you can't feel sorry for yourself about it. You just have to improve and focus and I gotta get better at that. For me that's the part, that's the low of the night. There's some things up front . . . I don't wanna take anything away from the offensive line, they did a tremendous job up front. But me as an individual, I have to improve on holding onto that football in the fourth quarter."

Ridley's turnover cast a cloud over a running game that continues to produce in a big way. For the first time since 1978 Patriots rushers have put together back-to-back 200-yard games, churning up 251 yards on the ground on 51 carries against Denver.

Need more evidence to the fact that the Patriots offense is emphasizing the run? Tom Brady threw 31 passes. That's 20 fewer pass plays than run plays.

"You just cant drop back and throw it 60 times every game," Brady said. "You have to be balanced and I think were doing a very good job of when were calling the runs, were executing them. Were gaining some significant yards per attempt. I hope we keep it up."

Brady said that, like last week against Buffalo, the Patriots were able to take advantage of Denver's defensive personnel by running the ball.

"Were getting a lot of nickel defense," Brady said. "When they put little guys out there, we have to take advantage of it. I think were playing definitely a more physical style and controlling the tempo of the game by running the football. We have to keep doing it."

Danny Woodhead rushed for 47 yards on seven carries, the highlight was a 19-yard run for a first down with the Patriots facing a third-and-17 on their second series of the third quarter. That play kept a drive alive that resulted in a Tom Brady 1-yard touchdown plunge.

Rookie Brandon Bolden ran for 54 yards on 14 carries one week after gashing the Bills for 137 yards on the ground. After Ridley's fumble, it was Bolden who was trusted to run out the clock on the New England's final drive, running three times for 18 yards.

Though Ridley watched from the sideline while Bolden filled in as closer, he praised his teammates and complimented the offense's progression as a unit after it helped get New England's record (3-2) over .500 for the first time this season.

"For some reason the last two weeks this offense is moving in the right direction," he said. "But we're not satisfied."

The least of which was Ridley, who, even after the game of his life, realized he still had a lot to learn.

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

“We’re a blue-collar team…”

Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers

“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”

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After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”

“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”

The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.

“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”

“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.

Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.

“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”

The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro. 

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No doubter: Gostkowski knew he wouldn't be short on record-setting kick

No doubter: Gostkowski knew he wouldn't be short on record-setting kick

The Raiders gave Stephen Gostkowski plenty of time to think about the 62-yard kick he was about to line up when they called a timeout just before the end of the first half. Didn't matter. Gostkowski returned to his spot, watched a good snap turn into a good hold, which turned into a Patriots record.

It was the longest field goal in Patriots history, making it the longest in Stephen Gostkowski's career as he bested his previous record of 58 yards set earlier this season. It was also the perfect exclamation point to a perfect day for Gostkowski, who went four-for-four on field goals and three-for-three on extra points in his team's 33-8 win over the Raiders in Mexico City. 

When asked about the half-ending kick, Gostkowski credited his teammates for putting him in position to kick it. They got from their own seven-yard line with 33 seconds left to the Raiders 45-yard line with five seconds remaining. A 20-yard run by Dion Lewis and completions to Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski did the trick. 

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"I think every time I kick a long kick, it's Gronk who makes the catch right beforehand," Gostkowski told reporters. "It's a nice little polish connection. It was cool. You can wait your whole career and not get a kick like that. It's a very opportunistic job. You're only as good as the opportunities you get. I got a good opportunity, and I'm glad I took advantage of it."

The longest kick Gostkowski tried in warmups was from 60 yards away but he had no concerns about trying to make something longer. Having kicked at altitude all week at the Air Force Academy, he knew his range would be better than it usually is. 

"I don't usually go past 60 in warmups," he said. "I hit one and I made it by a good bit. I knew that coming up short -- if I hit it good -- probably wasn't going to happen. Warm weather, altitude, the ball is going to fly. I just tried to concentrate on getting a good foot on it , making sure it stayed straight enough. Got the opportunity, took advantage of it. It's exciting for the whole team."

Gostkowski also used the extra oomph he had in Mexico City to boot six of his seven kickoffs for touchbacks, keeping the NFL's leading return man Cordarrelle Patterson (30.8 yards per return) from burning the Patriots in that phase.

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