|Finding room to run vs. Denver was no problem as Ridley rumbles for 151 yards. (US Presswire)|
FOXBOROUGH, Mass.-- Stevan Ridley is asked if he's a game-changer. If he is the back that makes the Patriots the best team in football. He knows better than to answer that question.
"Not touching that one," he said with a smile.
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I will. Touch the topic, that is. Not Ridley.
In fact, few people are able to touch Ridley these days. No player in the NFL right now has come out of almost nowhere to make such a huge difference as Ridley.
There's no question: if the Patriots keep running the ball the way they are now -- and there's no sign it will slow anytime soon -- it is New England and not Houston that is the best team in the sport. Records be damned. Records don't matter at the moment. That's because it's really only been the past few weeks that Ridley has exploded.
"It's awesome, man. I just have to say, it takes a lot of pressure off [Tom] Brady," Ridley explained when asked about the Patriots' rushing attack. "And that's our leader, that's our team. A lot of people key on him and our running back group has to get some pressure off him so he can be the quarterback he can be. If they're sitting back there staring Brady in the face every play, we can't be a one-dimensional offense. So we're taking pride in that and we're thankful for it, but there's a lot of work to be done. We're not satisfied and it's still early in the year. There's a lot of football to be played."
And that's the key -- Ridley's play makes teams pay for putting in smaller, faster lineups to stop Brady and the passing game. You saw this repeatedly against Denver on Sunday. The Broncos added extra defensive backs and the Patriots ran the ball.
"We're getting a lot of nickel defense," Brady said. "When they put little guys out there, we have to take advantage of it. I think we're playing definitely a more physical style and controlling the tempo of the game by running the football. We have to keep doing it. It's only been five games; we still have a lot of football games left."
How good has this Patriots running game been? The Patriots had 251 yards in 54 carries against Denver. The Broncos are a solid defense. They're not the Browns. Ridley had 151 of those yards on 28 attempts.
The new rushing attack is the reason the Patriots set a team record with 35 first downs and why the Patriots are the first team since the 1970 merger to have 30 or more first downs in three consecutive games.
How good has the Patriots running game been? It's the first time since 1978 the Patriots had back-to-back 200-yard rushing games.
The Patriots are correct -- it's a long season. Things change rapidly, sometimes not only week to week, but quarter to quarter.
But if the Patriots keep playing like this they're the biggest threat in the sport. Not Houston. Not the Falcons. For the moment, it's the Patriots.
Here they go again.