Rob Ninkovich: ‘I knew I was capable of making some big plays’
|10.07.12 at 10:19 pm ET|
FOXBORO — A Patriots defensive end stole the show Sunday — and his name was not Chandler Jones.
Rob Ninkovich forced a pair of huge second-half turnovers that proved critical in New England’s 31-21 win over the Broncos.
Without Ninkovich’s key plays, fourth-and-5 could have replaced fourth-and-2 in Patriots infamy.
With the Patriots up, 24-7, midway through the third quarter, Ninkovich crashed through and stripped Peyton Manning of the ball. Vince Wilfork recovered at the Broncos 6. On the next play, Stevan Ridley went around left tackle for a touchdown that put the Patriots up, seemingly comfortably, 31-7.
“I was trying to set up my moves a little bit early,” Ninkovich said. “I know those guys out there are good and they’re big and you have to give it to Manning, he’s got great pocket presence. So the first couple drives I was trying to just bull rush, trying to collapse the pocket a little bit. Then on that one rush I just changed it up and swiped and got on the field and the ball was there so we just got it out.”
Those would be the last points the Patriots would score on the day.
The Patriots went for it on fourth-and-5 at the Broncos 37 and instead of punting, Brady was sacked, fumbled and the Broncos marched down the field for a TD that made it 31-21 with 6:43 left. Then Ridley fumbled for the first time since the AFC divisional game.
But with 3:48 left and the Broncos on the verge of taking advantage of the turnover, Ninkovich stripped the ball out of McGahee’s arms as he was falling backwards at the Patriots 11. Jermaine Cunningham recovered. Game over.
“I knew I was capable of making some big plays and being a guy that you can count on so the first couple of weeks I didn’t feel I was playing my style and the way I would like to play, so I felt the last couple weeks I’m doing some things that I’ve been trying to change,” Ninkovich said. “The fumble at the end of the game on the draw play I just saw the running back step inside so I just followed him and saw the ball on his right hand and tried to throw a hook at it.”
While McGahee felt terrible, the Broncos were doing a favor to the Patriots by having the ball in the hands of someone other than Peyton Manning as they tried to complete a miracle comeback.
“He’s a great quarterback, one of the best ever,” Ninkovich said. “Any time he’s got the ball with five minutes left you’re always a little bit uneasy and nervous because that guy’s a great player. I’m happy we won.
“I kept looking at the clock, wanting it to go faster so we could get that game over with. At the end of the game, having a guy like Manning with the ball is always nerve-wracking because he’s made those comebacks in the past.”
Ninkovich said the key for the defense on the Broncos’ last gasp was knowing that Denver likes to run the ball in the red zone. That knowledge and fierce effort helped New England avert what could’ve been disaster.
“At the end of the game, we didn’t finish the way you wanted to. Giving them the ball a couple of times wasn’t a good feeling. But it’s our job to go out there and get the ball back, get them punt or turn them over on fourth down. So that’s our job. Obviously, we have some things to work on and we’re going to do that.”
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