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December 9, 2012

Pats offensive balance a challenge for Texans

FOXBOROUGH — Stevan Ridley has emerged as a top running back in his second pro season. He’s not the only Patriots rusher Texans coach Gary Kubiak has to worry about.

The revived New England ground game, with Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden as backups, has brought balance to an offense that relied more heavily on quarterback Tom Brady in recent years.

Ridley, in his second pro season, is third in the AFC with 1,010 yards rushing going into Monday night’s game between the Texans (11-1), who have the best record in the AFC and have clinched a playoff berth, and the Patriots (9-3), who have locked up the AFC East title.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Kubiak said. “They’ve had a few different backs back there. It’s what they do. It’s almost like anybody they put back there is successful. They play young guys. Tom has got them in the right play all the time. They’re not only running the ball well, but those backs out of the backfield catch the ball extremely well.”

Vereen has rushed for just 173 yards and three touchdowns but has scored on an 83-yard pass play. Bolden, a rookie who returns Monday night after sitting out a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances, is second on the team with 234 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

“They’re very capable of running the ball very well,” Kubiak said.

And, of course, outstanding throwing it.

Brady is having his usual strong season with 25 touchdown passes and just four interceptions, and wide receiver Wes Welker leads the NFL with 92 receptions.

That pairing could be a real problem for Houston without cornerback Brice McCain, who had surgery on his left foot on Monday. Brandon Harris, a second-year pro, will replace him despite having played in just four games this season.

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