FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts — Stevan Ridley cracked a wry smile.
Despite struggling through the first four weeks of the season, New England's offense was never broken, or searching for an identity. The Patriots running back insists that it's been there the entire time.
He just helped it emerge again.
After running for 113 yards and a touchdown in a much-needed 43-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night, Ridley's attention has since shifted to slicing through the Buffalo Bills' second-ranked rushing defense when the two teams tied atop the AFC East meet on Sunday.
But first, he had to take his turn putting to rest speculation about the Patriots' problems.
"We had some struggles early on but we've always been a good offense around here," said Ridley, who said the team has gone through some growing pains. "I think as a whole, we're moving in the right direction."
New England's offensive struggles had mostly been attributed to quarterback Tom Brady, a shaky and inconsistent offensive line and a relatively unproven cast of receivers.
But the running game wasn't exactly shouldering the offensive attack, either.
New England (3-2) was averaging 3.7 yards per carry through the first month of the season.
Now in his fourth season, it's becoming evident that Ridley thrives when he is fed the ball, over and over.
Since his breakout year in 2012, when he ran for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns, the Patriots are 12-0 when Ridley carries the ball at least 19 times, including Sunday when he ran 27 times. They are 14-9 when he doesn't.
Patience, Ridley says, is pivotal to the running game.
"I call it chopping wood," he explained. "You're not always going to get the big runs right away. You kind of have to take the one- and two-yard gains and be thankful that they're not negative runs. If that's what we can do as runners is to keep the chains moving by having positive runs, then we're OK."
Ridley prides himself on one thing.
"We always have to fall forward," he said. "And that's what I try to make my living on is falling forward and getting positive yards."
He did more than expected against the Bengals' sixth-ranked rushing defense.
Ridley ran for 20 yards on the opening drive, capping the march with his second touchdown of the season. He also ripped off a 43-yard run in the third quarter and had only two runs result in negative yardage.
That performance came only six days after he received only five carries in an embarrassing 41-14 loss to the Chiefs, a game in which the Patriots fell behind in quickly and had to almost entirely abandon the running game.
"I feel that we had a lot to prove," he said. "Coming off a week like we did, the week before last, it was tough for us, and coach made it tough. But we had to come back and answer and that's what we did as a team."
Ridley's rollercoaster ride continues Sunday in Buffalo against the Bills (3-2), who are yielding just 71 yards a game on the ground and have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher.
"They're defensive front has always been a problem," Ridley said. "It's a lot of money spent on that defense. I think that they really are finding their groove over in Buffalo and they're doing some things well at the beginning of the season."
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