By Logan Reever
‘Tis the life of an NFL running back. One minute you’re celebrating a goal-line score, the next you’re on the ground cringing in pain. Sunday, Patriots’ starting RB Stevan Ridley experienced this low after he went down with what is now being confirmed as a torn ACL and MCL.
The injury came in the third quarter when Cornerback Stephon Gilmore got in the backfield and gota direct hit on Ridley’s left knee. Ridley immediately stayed on the ground and was helped off by the medical staff. Once on the sideline, he seemed to realize the extent of the injury. Tears streamed from the fourth year running back’s face as it hit home. This all was then confirmed Monday when an MRI revealed the damage, and both the anterior cruciate ligament and the medial collateral ligament were found to be torn. Ridley led the team in rushing as well as having two touchdowns on the year. Despite an inconsistent start to the year, Ridley managed to put up big games against Minnesota in Week 2 (101 yards, TD) and also last week against Cincinnati (113 yards, TD). The team will now have to find a new feature back. Although Ridley was named the starter, he shared snaps with a variety of backs, including third-down specialist Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden. Both are in for a dramatic increase of carries and snaps. Between the two, expect more carries for Bolden, who simulates more of Ridley’s running style. Looking deeper, two rookies that could make an impact are University of Wisconsin product James White and practice squad standout Jonas Grey.
Another injury in the game came to another key and vital part of the Pats’ defense, Linebacker Jerod Mayo. Mayo is also out for the season after an injury Sunday to his knee. The linebacker also missed most of the 2013 season with a torn pectoral muscle. With a crew of young and ready linebackers, the Pats should be able stop the bleeding for now. But with such a productive tackler and leader gone, the team won’t have an easy time replacing them. Mayo led the team in tackles with 53. The most inclined to fill in for Mayo will be third-year player Dont’a Hightower. Hightower was highly regarded coming out of Alabama in 2012 and was picked to be a leader on this defense. Now with Mayo gone, most of the responsibility and coordinating on the field will fall on his shoulders. Other linebackers in need of gaining a bigger role are starting rookie Deontae Skinner and Jamie Collins. Skinner has worked his way up through the depth chart and is playing solid and steady right now, as evidenced by his five tackles and sack in Sunday’s game. Collins, a more athletic and better pass coverage linebacker, will be required to do more as well as change his play style a bit with the short leash the Pats have with depth.
Sunday’s game left the team in a tough spot at both positions. But if there is any man who can make up for those losses, it’s Bill Belichick. Getting the most out of guys and throwing unknowns in has been his staple mark throughout his 20 years as a head coach.