Tuesday, December 10, 2013
By Mike Lowe firstname.lastname@example.org
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Rob Ninkovich may not be the best-known of New England's defensive players, but he's made a large share of huge plays the last couple of years.
Rob Ninkovich, bottom, sandwiches Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, forcing a third-quarter fumble with the help of rookie defensive end Chandler Jones.
The Associated Press
And after a slow start to his season -- likely brought on from a change of position from linebacker to defensive end -- he was back at it Sunday afternoon.
Ninkovich was credited with two forced fumbles in a 31-21 victory over Denver at Gillette Stadium, the first one leading to the Patriots' last touchdown of the afternoon, the second ending the Broncos' final threat with just under 4:00 remaining.
"Impressive, this guy goes out and plays hard each and every week," said linebacker Jerod Mayo. "Even from the preseason on, just because the big plays don't come, doesn't mean he's not out there playing well."
Maybe, but Ninkovich was particularly upset with himself after the Patriots' 31-30 loss at Baltimore in Week Three.
"I knew I was capable of making some big plays and being a guy that you can count on," said Ninkovich. "The first couple of weeks I didn't feel I was playing my style, the way I would like to play. The last couple of weeks I've been trying to change some things."
The Patriots had just taken a 24-7 lead when Denver had a first down at its 20. Ninkovich, lined up on the left side of the defense, went wide on right tackle Orlando Franklin and hit Peyton Manning from behind. The ball came loose and was recovered by Vince Wilfork at the 14.
One play later, following a pass interference call, Stevan Ridley scored on an 8-yard run and it was 31-7.
"You've got to get to Manning," said Ninokovich.
"He's got good pocket presence. The first couple of series I was just trying to bull rush and try and collapse the pocket a little bit. That one rush I changed it up a little bit, went up the field a little bit and the ball was there."
Denver came back with two touchdowns and got the ball back with 5:19 remaining when Ridley lost a fumble. But on second-and-10 from the Patriots 14, Ninkovich came from behind again and stripped the ball from Willis McGahee in the middle of a scrum. New England's Jermaine Cunningham recovered it to preserve New England's win.
"I saw the running back step inside so I followed him," said Ninkovich, who was credited with four tackles. "I saw the ball and tried to throw a hook at it."
It proved to be the knockout blow.
NINKOVICH and rookie defense end Chandler Jones did a lot of switching. Normally Jones lines up on the right and Ninkovich the left, but they often lined up on opposite ends.
"Just a game plan thing," said Ninkovich. "Earlier in the year we were just left and right and that obviously gives offenses a chance to say, 'This is what they are, this is what they're doing.'
"So you know, moving around helps both of us and generates some pressure."
ETC: Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass in his 37th consecutive game, moving into third place on the NFL list ... Wes Welker, who had 13 catches for 104 yards, extended his franchise record of having at least one catch to 82 games. This was Welker's 15th career game with at least 10 catches, tying Andre Johnson for third all-time ... The Patriots are the first team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to have at least 30 first downs in three consecutive games ... The game marked the first time in NFL history that two quarterbacks entered with more than 300 career touchdown passes. Manning ranks third in NFL history with 410 touchdown passes, Brady fifth with 308.
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: