|Rob Ninkovich: I’m just trying to make ‘big-time plays in big-time games’||10.22.12 at 9:53 am ET|
FOXBORO — Brandon Spikes is the biggest hitter on the team. Rookie Chandler Jones might be the best pure pass rusher on the team. And Vince Wilfork is one of the best pure nose tackles in the game.
But right now, Rob Ninkovich is the biggest big-play maker on the Patriots defense. And the secondary can thank its lucky stars for him.
Ninkovich helped seal the win against Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Oct. 7 with a strip-sack late. He proved his worth again on Sunday, breaking through the Jets offensive line and — with a little help from Jermaine Cunningham — stripping Mark Sanchez of the ball in overtime and recovering the fumble that ended the Patriots’ 29-26 overtime win over the Jets.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games,” Ninkovich said. “So, I’m just trying to do that.”
It was a walk-off win for Ninkovich and the Pats.
With the Patriots up in overtime by three and the Jets getting one more chance to tie or win, the defense needed to step up and not allow a game-winning touchdown drive.
The Patriots secondary had just allowed a 17-yard completion to Jeremy Kerley to the Jets’ 40. After Joe McKnight ran up the middle for no gain, Sanchez dropped back deep and looked to pass. Cunningham broke through and got Sanchez’ legs low while Ninkovich saw that the Jets QB was vulnerable.
“It was just an edge rush,” Ninkovich said. “Jermaine Cunningham did a great job of getting inside on the guard, shortening that corner for me. I was able to get around the guy and I saw Jermaine on his legs, trying to get him down, and [Sanchez] tried to throw it so I just got the ball, knocked him down and pick up the ball and finish the game.
“I was just trying to get him down as well, just like Jermaine. I kind of knew, as I’m coming to him, he was trying to throw the ball, the ball was right there and I hit everything, and I saw the ball pop out. So, I was able to crawl, scoop it, fall on it. It was a great feeling to have the offense go down, score, kick a field goal and then have the defense finish it out. It’s great for the defense to be able to do that.”
Ninkovich’s reward: A bear hug from Bill Belichick moments after the strip-sack and the ball he covered as the game ball, a prize he showed off with pride at his locker in his postgame interview.
But the bigger statement might have been made by the defense, as the Pats blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and trailed by three with 1:37 left in regulation.
“Finish, finish,” Ninkovich said of the message going through his head when the team watched the lead dwindle again late. “I think it’s tough the last couple of games we’ve lost, having the lead and they come back and we lose at the end of the game. It’s just a terrible feeling, so this game, the whole time, I’m thinking, ‘Hey, this can’t happen again.’ We just have to fight all four quarters, hold them to a field goal at the end. In overtime, we said, ‘It’s overtime, we know we’re going to get a chance, so let’s go out there and finish this game.’ “
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