FOXBOROUGH — Two players relegated to the bench to start the game — prompting speculation that it was for disciplinary reasons — wound up playing leading roles in the Patriots’ 27-17 comeback win Sunday against the Dolphins.
Running back Stevan Ridley didn’t see the field until the second quarter, but he finished with 79 yards and a game-clinching touchdown run. Rookie cornerback Logan Ryan had two sacks, none bigger than the blind-side hit he laid on Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The turnover led to a third-quarter touchdown that tied the game and shifted the momentum.
Neither player would admit that the lack of early playing time was punishment. In fact, both said it was not. They were simply happy to make an impact whenever they finally got the call.
“I’ve been on the bench to start the game for two or three weeks now. We’re a very unselfish group, and whatever the coaches feel the best move for us to win the game to start the game, that’s how we go with it,” Ridley said. “People may think, but I just stick with my team, and however they use me, that’s how they use me.”
Ridley led the Patriots in rushing last season, gaining 1,263 yards. He’s still waiting for his first 100-yard game this season, but his 399 still lead the team. Ridley’s effort helped the Patriots rush for 152 yards; it’s the fourth time this season they’ve topped 140, and the first time they’ve gained more yards on the ground than through the air.
A 23-yard run by Ridley in the third quarter — his longest of the season — was one of the game’s biggest plays. The Patriots were trailing, 17-3, but caught a break when Caleb Sturgis missed a 46-yard field goal. On the first play of the drive after taking over, Ridley raced up the middle, then broke right for a 23-yard gain that put the Patriots in Miami territory. Four plays later, Tom Brady hit Aaron Dobson for a 14-yard touchdown. Momentum was starting to switch sides.
Two plays after Dobson’s touchdown it had changed for good. Ryan came on a corner blitz and leveled Tannehill, jarring the ball loose. Rob Ninkovich recovered the fumble, setting up the Patriots at the Dolphins’ 13. It took three plays for the Patriots to tie the game at 17.
For Ryan, a rookie from Rutgers, it was his first career sack, and first forced fumble. He had his first interception a week ago against the Jets, returning it 79 yards for a touchdown. But at the end of that play, as he leaped into the end zone, Ryan made an inappropriate gesture, an act that brought a $10,000 fine from the NFL.
Ryan started at left cornerback last week against the Jets with Aqib Talib out with an injury. Talib missed Sunday’s game, too, but Ryan wasn’t in the starting lineup, and barely played in the first half. Was his lack of snaps in response to his gesture against the Jets?
“No, not at all. It was just how it turned out,” Ryan said.
Tannehill never saw Ryan, whose eyes must have been getting bigger with each step he made toward the quarterback.
“I just wanted to get the ball out. That’s something we practice every single day, sack-fumbles,” Ryan said. “Getting a sack is one thing, but I wanted to force a fumble, and I’m glad it came out.”
Ryan added a second sack in the fourth quarter, coming again on a corner blitz, and hitting Tannehill at about the same time as Chris Jones and Brandon Spikes. It took Ryan a little while to get out there, but he made the most of his chances.
“It’s good. You know, it’s what I look forward to,” Ryan said of his big plays. “It’s what I’ve been working so hard for, back to when I got drafted, so hopefully as I continue to practice better and play better they will continue.”