FOXBOROUGH — Watching at home in Louisiana, Kevin Faulk’s first reaction when he saw former teammate Stevan Ridley fumble in the first quarter against the Broncos Sunday night was one of dismay.
But in his next thought, Faulk wondered about the young running back and his feelings in that moment, when the fumble was scooped up by linebacker Von Miller and returned for the game’s first touchdown.
When NBC cameras showed Ridley slamming his helmet against the bench on the sideline, Faulk had his answer, and it wasn’t the one he was hoping for.
“I was like, ‘That’s not good. That’s not good at all,’ ” Faulk said Wednesday.
Ridley didn’t get back on the field that night. He was left to pace the sideline wrapped in a long parka, able only to watch the Patriots’ historic comeback.
The fumble was Ridley’s fourth of the season and third in as many weeks, all of which have led to points for the opponent, though New England is 3-1 in those games.
Reaction to Ridley’s latest fumble was swift, and none of it positive. It began with the coaching staff benching the 2011 third-round pick. On Twitter, fans wondered whether Ridley could be cut at halftime, and some talking heads said the time for defending Ridley had ended.
In the locker room, Ridley called his fumbling in consecutive weeks “almost disgusting” and “sickening.”
On Tuesday, he reached out to Faulk, who had his own problems with ball security, to seek advice from a mentor and friend. In 2000, his second season in the league, Faulk had six fumbles, and he totaled 25 in his career with the Patriots.
“All I said was he has to figure out what has to change for him,” said Faulk. “It’s totally different for each person. When I was going through my thing, it was like, forget what everybody else is saying, I’m playing the game. I’m not going to listen to what everybody is talking about in terms of, ‘he’s a fumbler.’
“I told him, ‘Don’t think about not fumbling, think about, how can I hold onto the ball? This isn’t college, this is your job. You have to figure out what’s going on, because if you don’t, you’re going to be out of a job.’ ”
Based on Ridley’s candor, no one has to tell him how his mistakes could affect his future in the NFL.
On Wednesday, after initially saying he didn’t want to talk, Ridley acquiesced, and one question about how much his most recent fumble has lingered led to a tumble of thoughts from the 24-year-old.
“Ahh . . . it has, and I think it will be on my mind until I get back on the field Sunday and I try to redeem myself,” he said. “Right now, at this point in time, it’s just manning up and accepting your mistakes and improving on them, and for me, I thrive on going out there and when people are doubting you, you have to go out there, and for me, I like to prove doubters wrong.
“And that’s the biggest thing that you have to do in this game, is you have to fight through adversity, and it’s not always going to be glitter and gold, so for me it’s just, I have to keep my head in it and lean on the people I know love me and trust me and also know what I can do.
“I can’t fall into what everybody says and the comments and things like that because it won’t do anything but keep you down.
“But you have to go through the ups and downs. It’s part of the game, and I don’t care who you talk to, everybody that has played this sport has had some ups and downs. It’s not making any excuse for it, that’s just saying that I know what I need to work on and I’m going to do that for my team down the road and try to be a better player.”
In situations like this, everyone wants to offer a solution. Some suggested Ridley carry the ball with both arms, which Faulk described as “so awkward.’’ Others suggested that wearing rubber or Neoprene sleeves over his elbows and forearms might help keep the ball secure.
(Faulk wore elbow pads throughout his career, and when he was having a bad stretch of fumbling, some theorized they were part of the problem.)
It’s all mental, Faulk said, and he noted that in a couple of cases with Ridley, consideration should be given that a defender simply made a great play to force the ball out. Indeed, Bill Belichick said there wasn’t much Ridley could have done against safety Troy Polamalu when Ridley fumbled against the Steelers.
The Patriots also knew when they drafted Ridley that his running style might lead to some problems. They need to be minimized, of course, but the fact that he’s going through a difficult stretch shouldn’t be a surprise.
After expressing “great confidence” in Ridley as a runner and noting his productivity, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels nonetheless added that there is nothing more important than maintaining possession of the ball.
No one knows that better than Ridley.
“There’s no magic pill, there’s no magic words you can say,” said Ridley. “As a running back, your job is to hold onto the ball, because they hand it to you. Behind the center and the quarterback, you probably touch it as much as anybody.
“So you have the life of the team in the ball, and you have to return it back to your team, and if you don’t do that, you’re not doing your job as a runner.
“I can’t make light of the situation that is obviously an issue, but am I going to start believing that I have a fumbling problem and that’s something I can’t overcome? Absolutely not.
“It’s a mistake, it’s something that I messed up on, but that’s why I say it’s going to show ultimately how much of a man I really am because I have to overcome this. I have to get better from this. And if I don’t improve, it’s going to cost me my job down the line and I don’t want that.
“I’ve come too far in my career and worked too hard. I have to be conscious about it and set my head on it that I’m not going to let those same mistakes happen again.
“So I hope and I pray that it’s the last one, but what’s the nature of that really happening? It’s going to be hard, but I just have to take the bad that comes with the good, because like my mom always told me, ‘They’re going to praise you when you’re doing well, and when you’re doing bad, guess what, they’re going to let you know about it.’
“If you can’t be a man and you can’t accept the pressure that’s on you being in the spotlight, this job isn’t for you. So I’m going to fight through adversity and I’m going to keep working, regardless of what anybody says.”