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Rob Ninkovich owns Tim Tebow while reminding Pats fans of Mike Vrabel

01.15.12 at 1:42 am ET
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Rob Ninkovich never let Tim Tebow out of his sights - or grasp - all night. (AP)

FOXBORO — Rob Ninkovich has heard the whispers turn into full-fledged screams throughout the course of the season.

Tom Brady makes up for all the failings of the 32nd ranked defense in the NFL. The Patriots won’t go anywhere in the playoffs because of their defense. The secondary will eventually get burned for a big play at a bad time.

Following New England’s 45-10 throttling of Tim Tebow and the Broncos Saturday night in frigid Foxboro, what does he think of all of that criticism now?

“Just like all season, in one ear and out the other,” Ninkovich said with a good-natured smile beaming through his mountain-man beard.

Flying all over the field like Mike Vrabel used to do in the last decade, Ninkovich was all over the place Saturday night – in a very controlled way – keeping an eye on Tebow and not losing containment on the triple-option.

But it was was a play that he made on Tebow on Denver’s first drive that might have set the tempo on defense for the night, a night that ended with Tebow completing just 9-of-26 passes for 136 yards. On Denver’s first drive, Tebow escaped on 3rd-and-5 and ran 14 yards for a first down. Willis McGahee ran 19 yards up the middle to the Patriots 38.

Then two plays later, Ninkovich broke through and before Tebow could raise his arm, he sacked the Broncos quarterback, forcing a fumble. Brandon Spikes landed on the ball at the Patriots 41. Tom Brady would capitalize with another TD drive and the Patriots were in business, up 14-0.

All because Ninkovich, like Vrabel did years back, was able to play his run responsibilities while picking the right time to rush the QB.

“It was a good play, just turning the momentum in our favor to get that 14-0 lead,” Ninkovich said. “It’s great whenever you can get the sack, fumble and recovery. It’s a good play all the way around. I was happy I was able to do that and help the team.

“It definitely helps the momentum of the game and get the defense really pumped up and into the game, like, ‘Hey, we can control the game. We can give our offense the ball anytime.’ We just have to continue that mentality.”

Remember when Vrabel had two sacks of Jake Delhomme – including a forced fumble – in Super Bowl XXXVIII, making him an MVP candidate before Tom Brady led the game-winning drive?

On Saturday, Ninkovich finished with 1.5 sacks, five total tackles, two quarterback hits, one tackle for a loss and a forced fumble.

But Ninkovich also remembers what happened on Dec. 18 in Denver. Tebow was able to get to the edge, along with Willis McGahee and Lance Ball, on their way to 173 rushing yards in the first quarter. On Tebow’s first touchdown run, it was Ninkovich who was shedded by the big quarterback – something that seemed to inspire him Saturday night.

“The first series down in Denver, they were able to get the ball to the edge a couple of times and, being an outside linebacker, that falls on my shoulders, so I took that to heart,” he said. “Coming into this game, I wanted to be sure I was able to do that.”

That 14-yard run by Tebow on the opening drive Saturday was the biggest he had. Tebow would run the ball four more times, losing two yards in the process. And all because Ninkovich and Jerod Mayo were able to keep containment.

“It’s difficult because when you’re out there playing and you want to go one way because you see him, you know he’s got the ability to get outside and really hurt your team,” Ninkovich said. “It’s about discipline and keeping containment. You have to do that with a quarterback like that. If you don’t, that’s when big plays can happen. We were able to contain him tonight.”

Read More: 2012 playoffs, Denver Broncos, Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots
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