FOXBOROUGH -- Stevan Ridley took a giant step back into the good graces of his coaches in last week's AFC East-clinching win at Baltimore.
Now the goal for the New England running back is to stay there.
Ridley, benched for the Dec. 1 game at Houston after losing fumbles three straight weeks and four times on the season, was back in the spotlight last Sunday. With the Patriots ahead 20-7 in the fourth quarter, he carried five times for 22 yards, including a tough 8-yarder on the final offensive drive.
"It's better than being on the sideline, I'll say that," Ridley said Thursday.
Back on Dec. 1, Ridley stood in street clothes holding a football as his teammates rallied for a 34-31 win over the Texans. He returned and played in the next two games, carrying eight times in each. But at Baltimore, he carried 15 times (for 54 yards) and was in there late as he helped the Patriots clinch their fifth straight division title.
"Getting your playing time cut and being benched and on the sideline isn't anything that anybody wants to go through," he said. "You have to battle back. You have to go out there and work every day -- and I can only control what I can control."
Citing his faith as the thing that gets him through tough times, Ridley said, "It wasn't what I wanted, but I know why God did it. It wasn't like the coaches woke up and said, ‘Hey, let's bench Stevan Ridley.' I put myself there."
He said he spoke to his high school coach, David Kuhn, and former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk about the fumbling problems. Whatever he did, so far it has worked.
"For me, it's about not letting past mistakes hold you down," he said. "I think that life brings you that -- you're going to have adversity, you're going to have stuff that you're going to go through. It's how you bounce back from that as a person.
"I love what I do, I love the sport that I play and God put me here. So, for me, I can't sit on the past, whether it's success or whether it's something that I don't want."
Despite missing two games (the other with an injury), Ridley, who ran for 1,263 yards -- the fourth-highest total in team history -- and a team-high 12 touchdowns last year, leads this year's team with 699 yards on the ground. He also leads the Patriots with seven touchdowns.
But that, and the benching, are all in the past.
"For me, it's focusing on these upcoming weeks. I think if we finish this year the way we want to finish this year, nobody will remember what happened in the past. But it's going to take a total team effort. It's not just about me, it's about the [running backs] in general," Ridley said.
"Whoever the number is back there, whether it's Shane [Vereen], whether it's Brandon [Bolden], whether it [is LeGarrette] Blount, whether it's me, we have to be accountable and we have to go out there and be a strong point for this team."
Ridley carried nine times for 46 yards in the season-opening 23-21 win at Buffalo, but also lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown that brought Buffalo back from a 10-0 deficit. Now, it's the Bills who can throw a monkey wrench into the Patriots' postseason bye situation Sunday. The Patriots would clinch no worse than the No. 2 seed with a win, but could fall to as far as No. 4 with a loss.
"It's a team that knows us well and we know them well, and they always do play us well," Ridley said. "So regardless of what the records indicate [New England 11-4, Buffalo 6-9], it's going to be a battle.
"We have to respect them as an opponent when they come in, but we're trying to stack good football together. So last week against the Ravens was a good start in the direction we want to go in in this postseason, but we can't get to our postseason without going through the Bills first. So we have to play solid football back-to-back weeks. That's what we're striving to do."