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Rob Ninkovich’s ‘consistent’ play has him mentioned with Hall of Famer Andre Tippett 12.18.14 at 6:00 am ET
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FOXBORO — There was a time where Patriots defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich was considered underrated. Not so much these days, especially when he is now in the same sentence as former Patriots great Andre Tippett.

By recording a sack in last Sunday’s win over the Dolphins, Ninkovich has recorded eight or more sacks in three consecutive seasons — the first Patriots player to do so since the Pro Football Hall of Famer Tippett achieved the feat from 1985-87.

“Every year I have high expectations of what I should do out there and set goals for myself,” Ninkovich said Wednesday. “I’ve been able to just be consistent. The more consistent you are the better you are.”

The versatile Ninkovich is able to lineup seemingly anywhere in the front-seven. He can line up as a defensive end, an outside linebacker, or even get down in a 3-point stance if need be. Ninkovich isn’t the only player with such versatility on the defense, as Chandler Jones and newcomer Akeem Ayers are virtually the same way.

Ninkovich finally got to be on the field at the same time with both players on Sunday, as it was Jones’ first game back since suffering a hip injury in Week 7. Having all three on the field presented some matchup problems for Miami, and paid off with Jones having 1.5 sacks, Ninkovich adding another, while Ayers had a tackle for a loss.

“The more guys that you can have doing different things defensively you’re better off,” said Ninkovich. “You can just be very multiple and what you can do and you have guys that can do a lot of different things and that helps your team out. The more you can do the better. I am happy to have all those guys out there with me making plays.”

The nine-year veteran — six with the Patriots — has played in 84 straight regular-season games, the most in the NFL among defensive ends. He’s also started in 63 straight, also the most in the NFL.

As much as he plays, he’s done a tremendous job of not being flagged for penalties. He was not flagged once this year until he was flagged twice against the Colts, nine games into the year, and he hasn’t been flagged since. The Patriots as a team have not been as good, as they have been flagged for 110 penalties (fifth-most in the league) for a total of 987 yards (third-most in the NFL).

“It’s tough because obviously you want to play smart football,” said Ninkovich. “Sometimes some of those calls it is hard to prevent some of them. But you have to do your best to play within the rules. That is what they are there for. Again, we’re out there playing hard, flying around, trying to make football plays. You can’t really slow yourself down, you just have to go play.”

Read More: Andre Tippett, Rob Ninkovich,
Dominique Easley (knee) ruled out Sunday, Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower among 9 questionable 12.12.14 at 4:53 pm ET
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Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley

FOXBORO — Rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley will miss his third game of the season Sunday after being ruled out on Friday’s injury report released by the team. Easley has been dealing with a nagging knee injury.

Rob Ninkovich (heel) continues to headline the limited players, as this is the first time he’s appeared on the injury report this season. Chandler Jones (hip) and Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), who both missed Sunday’s game, were limited. Offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (ankle), who has missed the last three games, was also limited. Julian Edelman (thigh) was again limited, as has been the case in recent weeks.

Edelman, Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower are among those listed officially as questionable. Hightower missed last Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury while Jones has missed the last six with a hip issue.

The Patriots did get some good news as Danny Aiken, who suffered a concussion against the Lions on Nov. 23, was removed from the injury report altogether and is expected to play Sunday.

Here is Friday’s complete practice report:

Did not practice

DL Dominique Easley (knee) OUT

Limited participation

OL Dan Connolly (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
WR Julian Edelman (thigh) QUESTIONABLE
OL Cameron Fleming (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
LB Dont’a Hightower (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
DE Chandler Jones (hip) QUESTIONABLE
WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
DE Rob Ninkovich (heel) QUESTIONABLE
RB Shane Vereen (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
LB Chris White (ankle) QUESTIONABLE

Full participation

QB Tom Brady (ankle) PROBABLE

Read More: Dominique Easley, Dont'a Hightower, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots
LeGarrette Blount returns to practice, Rob Ninkovich (heel) remains one of 10 limited 12.11.14 at 4:09 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount. (Getty Images)

LeGarrette Blount. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — LeGarrette Blount was back at practice on Thursday while Dominique Easley (knee) was the only player not participating, per the Patriots injury report of Thursday afternoon.

Blount was in court in Pittsburgh Wednesday morning, explaining his absence from practice on Wednesday. Easley has been battling a knee injury all season but has missed just one game.

Rob Ninkovich (heel) continues to headline the limited players, as this is the first time he’s appeared on the injury report this season. Chandler Jones (hip) and Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), who both missed Sunday’s game, were limited. Offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (ankle), who has missed the last three games, was also limited. Julian Edelman (thigh) was again limited, as has been the case in recent weeks.

Here is Thursday’s complete practice report:

Did not practice

DL Dominique Easley (knee)

Limited participation

LS Danny Aiken (concussion)
OL Dan Connolly (ankle)
WR Julian Edelman (thigh)
OL Cameron Fleming (ankle)
LB Dont’a Hightower (shoulder)
DE Chandler Jones (hip)
WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder)
DE Rob Ninkovich (heel)
RB Shane Vereen (ankle)
LB Chris White (ankle)

Full participation

QB Tom Brady (ankle)

Read More: Dominique Easley, LeGarrette Blount, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick compares Akeem Ayers to Rob Ninkovich 12.10.14 at 12:09 pm ET
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Akeem Ayers has already made his presence felt in New England. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

Akeem Ayers already has made his presence felt in New England. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick delivered a pair of sizable compliments to newcomer Akeem Ayers this week, comparing the linebacker to veteran Rob Ninkovich.

Early in the week on a conference call with the media, Belichick compared Ayers to Ninkovich, saying that Ayers been able to work as an end-of-the-line type who can play both outside linebacker and defensive end type of roles, a job Ninkovich has handled since he first arrived in 2009.

On Wednesday, Belichick added to it. Asked about Ayers’ versatile skill set, the coach praised Ayers’ smarts, versatility and overall skill set, saying he’s got a lot of Ninkovich in his game.

“He played outside linebacker in college and at Tennessee,” Belichick said of Ayers, who has three sacks, 13 tackles and 20 quarterback hurries (both good for fourth on the team) in six games. “He played defensive end in sub situations, which is pretty common for a lot of guys like him, like a Rob Ninkovich-type of guy. But until we actually had him, we didn’t know exactly how that would manifest itself. But he’s smart and he’s had a lot of experience playing on his feet and he’s had a lot of experience playing down.

“He has a good feel for the game. He’s a smart guy and he’s an instinctive player, like Rob — different than Rob, but like Rob. I’d say it’s pretty much about what we thought it would be, but we certainly know a lot more having worked with him on a daily basis the last couple months than what we knew just scouting a guy off of film in Tennessee.”

Read More: Akeem Ayers, Bill Belichick, Rob Ninkovich,
Bill Belichick calls Rob Ninkovich a ‘tough Croatian kid’ 11.24.14 at 12:07 pm ET
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Very few players on the Patriots, and even in the NFL, have been as durable as Patriots defensive end/lineman Rob Ninkovich.

Ninkovich went wire-to-wire, playing 82 of 82 defensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus in Sunday’s win over the Lions. For the season, he has played every snap of a game in eight of the 12 games, and overall he’s played 93 percent of the snaps — also per Pro Football Focus.

“Rob’€™s a tough Croatian, tough Croatian kid,” coach Bill Belichick said on Monday’s conference call. “He’€™s strong — he’€™s really strong for his size, been durable. He’€™s athletic, play on his feet, runs well. He’€™s able to definitely take care of himself out there and play in a lot of different situations. He’€™s strong enough to play against bigger people and athletic enough to play in some space and coverage situations, whatever the requirements are. There are a lot of things that he can do.

“We were a little light at end yesterday without [Dominique] Easley. I don’€™t know how much that would have affected Rob’€™s playing time yesterday, but we were definitely light at the position going in there. Rob gives us a consistent level of play and gives us a lot of toughness and a lot of versatility. I don’€™t think anybody is looking to take him off the field.”

Among defensive ends, Ninkovich is tops in the NFL with 81 straight games played, and 60 straight starts.

For the season, Ninkovich has 29 tackles, six sacks and one interception.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Rob Ninkovich,
Patriots foursome on remarkable flag-free streak this season 11.06.14 at 12:14 pm ET
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Rob Ninkovich is one of four Patriots regulars who has yet to be flagged this season. (Getty Images)

Rob Ninkovich is one of four Patriots regulars who has yet to be flagged this season. (Getty Images)

We have taken lots of time this season to talk about the Patriots penalty woes over the first nine games of the season — as well as the new points of emphasis that have created an occasionally flag-happy environment. But on the flip side, there’s also something to be said about showing an ability to avoid penalties to this point in the year. The following players have played at least 350 snaps this season (per Pro Football Focus) and have yet to be flagged:

Defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich — 584 defensive snaps — This is nothing new for Ninkovich, as he played 1,256 snaps last season (per PFF) and was only penalized once. In all, he has two penalties since the start of the 2012 season. PFF has him as one of two 3-4 outside linebackers in the league with at least 500 snaps and no penalties — Oakland rookie Khalil Mack is the other.

Safety Devin McCourty — 581 defensive snaps — Like Ninkovich, this is hardly a shocker, as he’s almost always at or near the top of the list in most snaps and fewest penalties. McCourty has taken just one penalty since the start of the 2013 season. (Per PFF, McCourty is one of nine safeties with at least 580 snaps who has yet to draw a penalty this season.)

Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork — 485 defensive snaps — The veteran defensive lineman had an abbreviated 2013 season because of an Achilles’ injury, but he’s on an impressive streak of 13 straight regular-season games (dating back to last season) without a penalty. That represents a seismic turnaround for the big man, who led the team with six penalties in 2012.

Running back Shane Vereen — 357 offensive snaps — The only Patriots offensive player who has at least 350 snaps who has yet to be hit with a penalty, Vereen leads a group of running backs who have yet to be flagged for a penalty this season. Remarkably, Vereen has not been flagged for a single penalty in his NFL career.

Read More: Devin McCourty, Rob Ninkovich, Shane Vereen, Vince Wilfork
Tim Hasselbeck on D&C: Peyton Manning ‘wasn’t the reason’ Broncos lost to Patriots 11.03.14 at 10:05 am ET
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ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday to discuss the Patriots’ surprisingly convincing win over the Broncos. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

As it was before the game started, most of the conversation after it was centered on Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Manning has been maligned for his poor performances in New England, and Sunday’s game made the hosts think even more that playing against the Patriots on the road gets in Manning’s head.

Said Hasselbeck: “I don’t know what’s in his head, but what I can tell you is that he got fooled on the [Rob] Ninkovich interception — it happens to guys all of the time. They were playing zone coverage, he thought the fourth rusher was coming from Ninkovich’s side, it wasn’t. So he got fooled. It happens to guys all of the time. That’s exactly what happened there. When you look at in terms of how he played, the win-loss, I don’t know what’s in his head. But I know that when Julian Edelman runs back a kick to make it 20-7, you think, ‘Wow, this is interesting how this is going to play out.’ The get to a fourth-and-6, which in my estimation is the biggest play of the game. It’s fourth-and-6, I think they had missed a field goal at that point, so they’re going for it. I think the direction that they were going, it maybe was a wind-related decision because of the kicking game. The Patriots decide to rush three, and Akeem Ayers sacks Peyton Manning on fourth-and-6 when he had the ball for about 3 1/2 seconds.

“To me, you look at that situation, what is Peyton Manning going to do? He wasn’t covering the kick on Julian Edelman, he wasn’t blocking three guys in front of him. … It’s one of these situations for him where it wasn’t his best game. He wasn’t the reason they lost.”

Some already are looking toward a possible AFC championship game between the same two teams. If it does happen, and it’s played in Foxboro, Hasselbeck said New England would appear to have the advantage.

“If the game’s in New England, I’ll most likely like New England,” Hasselbeck said. “Now there could a lot that happens between now and then. Gronkowski not healthy, I don’t know how I feel about it. … How they’re running the ball could change things. Look, I think there’s a lot that can happen between now and then in terms of how you feel about that game. Remember, the last time it was played in Denver the Broncos ended up winning that game.”

Continued Hasselbeck: “Here’s the deal with Peyton: The thing that has diminished in Peyton’s game is his arm strength. No question about it, his strength has diminished. In adverse conditions, throwing into the wind, if it’s really wet out, when the ball is not going travel naturally, as fast it would normally travel, if you’re playing in a dome or high altitude, that’s a problem for him — period. There’s no question about it and it’s not debatable.”

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Read More: Julian Edelman, Peyton Manning, Rob Gronkowski, Rob Ninkovich
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