FOXBORO — The moment Stevan Ridley juked Champ Bailey, then rolled over the future Hall of Famer on the way to the end zone for a touchdown, the minds of Patriots fans everywhere could almost be seen reaching the same conclusion.
After seven long years, the wait is over for the New England Patriots.
For the first time since Corey Dillon ran New England to the 2004 Super Bowl title, the Patriots are now finally taking the field with a true No. 1 running back, and his name is Stevan Ridley.
That is, as long as he holds onto the football.
The second year back was on fire against the Denver Broncos, rushing for a career-high 151 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown, leading a Patriots backfield that finished with 251 yards, its second straight contest of over 200 on the ground.
But his career day ended on a down note, when he fumbled with 5:19 left and was benched the rest of the way.
“The game didn’t end the way I wanted it to,” said a conflicted Ridley. “But, besides that, I’m thankful for what I accomplished. We can’t be a one-dimensional offense, and I just have to say it’s awesome to be able to do all I can.”
The coaching staff may have been teaching him a lesson after the fumble, but that was not about to make his teammates lose faith in the running back.
“He’s been unbelievable,” said offensive lineman Donald Thomas. “To have three games over 100 yards in only five games shows how serious he is taking the season. He’s worked so hard to get here, and he’s doing some great things out there.”
Watching Ridley run is clearly a different experience than watching the running backs the Patriots have fielded in the years since their last Super Bowl victory.