- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ridley's fumbles and his future: It is often said that when a player carries the football, he carries the fate of the entire team in his hands. In that case, what do the Patriots do with lead running back Stevan Ridley? Ridley lost his third fumble in as many games and was benched after playing just five snaps. When asked whether the Pats had reached a breaking point with Ridley, Bill Belichick didn't directly address the question, but did say the team's ball security as a whole needs to improve (six fumbles, three of which were lost on Sunday night).
Run defense: The Patriots played Sunday night's game almost exclusively in their 4-2-5 nickel, which had them lighter in the box against the run. The results weren't pretty, as the Broncos gained 280 yards on 48 carries (5.8 average). Part of that is matchup-based and there is also a personnel element to it as well, as the Patriots obviously miss perennial Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork. As the Patriots look at areas for improvement, run defense when playing in the nickel is near the top of the list.
Injuries pile up: Linebacker Dont'a Hightower came out of the game at the end of the second quarter and was one of three defenders not to play a snap in the second half, joining defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Each player's status will be monitored closely as the Patriots' defense is already short-handed. On offense, fill-in starting right tackle Marcus Cannon left in the second quarter with an ankle injury and didn't return. If Cannon is out for any length of time, it might require a roster move to add depth at tackle (practice squad tackle Jordan Devey is the top in-house option).
Avoiding the letdown: After such an exciting, emotional win, the Patriots now travel to Houston to face a Texans team that has lost nine straight games. This reminds us of last year's trip to Jacksonville late in December. This week will be as much about the mental challenge as the physical one for the Patriots.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A review of four hot issues following the New England Patriots' 34-31 win over the Denver Broncos:Ridley's fumbles and his future: It is often said that when a player carries the football, he carries the fate of the entire team in his hands.