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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
Bill Belichick on D&H: End of half was ‘big turning point in the game’ against Bears 10.27.14 at 6:37 pm ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick joined the Dale & Holley show on Monday to discuss his team’€™s 51-23 win over the Bears. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

During the victory, New England played a well-balanced game that saw the team get positive play in all areas of the game. From Tom Brady to the defensive line, the team’€™s overall effort made Sunday’€™s game a blowout.

Said Belichick: “I thought we had our moments. But we did get contributions in all three phases. The sequence at the end of the first half where we were able to score, have good kickoff coverage, have a good punt return, score, turnover on defense. That was obviously a big turning point in the game after they’€™d cut it to 17-7. You get something that skews the game a little bit, I think it was more competitive game that that. But I think our guys, we had a lot of energy. We were able to score first, get it back, get some points on the board early, score on eight of nine possessions offensively, had couple of turnovers on defense. There were good contributions everywhere.”

Brady had one of his best offensive performances this season Sunday when he completed 30-of-35 passes for 354 yards and five touchdowns. He spread the ball around, as six players had at least one catch. Belichick said he doesn’t look as much at what his quarterback does, but rather how the team as a whole performs.

“In evaluating how our team does, it’€™s points is the name of the game — scoring and giving them up,”  Belichick said. “Nothing more important than that. … Move the ball between the 20s, and then not be able to convert in the red area. It’€™s good, but it’€™s not good versus being able to get the ball in the end zone, and finish the drive and complete it. Whether that’€™s on a big play or whether it’€™s on a conversion in the red area, low red area, whatever it happens to be, those are the plays that end up resulting in points and make a difference.”

Continued Belichick: “I’€™d say Tom made a big jump from ’01 to ’03 in that two years. I think he’€™s continued to make jumps. I think he continues to improve, he works hard. He’€™s always working on little things, situational things, technique things, reading defenses, finding matchups, all of those things. He works very hard at it. I don’€™t think that’€™s ever been a weak point, but it continues to get stronger.”

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Read More: Akeem Ayers, Bill Belichick, Jonas Gray, Peyton Manning
Tedy Bruschi on D&H: ‘Don’t think [a Vincent Jackson trade] is the right move at all’ for Patriots at 4:11 pm ET
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ESPN NFL analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, in his weekly interview with WEEI’s Dale & Holley show, offered his view on New England’s blowout victory over the Bears, the challenge that lies ahead in game-planning for Peyton Manning and the Broncos and the embarrassing season-ending injury for Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston, among other topics.

Bruschi noted that the Patriots offense appears to be in a tremendous rhythm, with the performance of the offensive line in combination with the return to full Gronkitude by Rob Gronkowski combining with the emergence of wide receiver Brandon LaFell to give Tom Brady a tremendous number of weapons. That being the case, Bruschi suggested that pursuing Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson in a trade would be an ill-advised course.

“I think you look down the road and consider if it would help. I think you consider it for a moment because that’s what a good general manager would do. But in terms of this situation right here with the New England Patriots, I don’t think it’s the right move at all, especially with the development of Brandon LaFell,” said Bruschi. “You see the development. You see the progression. Ever since that first drive of the Cincinnati Bengals game is when I think this offense truly woke up and said, OK, let’s go. From that point, they started rolling and rolling.

“I just don’t think you want to put in another element into it that you may have to spoon-feed things to. You can’t give him the entire plate right now because he couldn’t handle it right now. He probably couldn’t digest the entire plan right now. So you spoon-feed him a little. But when you do that to one player, it has a trickle-down effect to others along the line,” added Bruschi. “Jobs are going to be different for other people down the road. Say Vincent Jackson comes in and you say you can only play this position. It messes up this offense. You’ve got to know how to play every single receiver’s spot along the front so they can have that flexibility that they want. You wouldn’t have that off the bat with him. Would you have some growing pains along the line to develop that? I think you would. I think you roll with what you’ve got right now.”

To listen to the complete interview, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page. Here are other highlights of Bruschi’s interview:

On whether Sunday against the Bears was as well as Bruschi had seen Brady play: “No, I don’t think that’s the best I’ve seen him play just because of the quality of competition he was going up against yesterday. There were some young defensive linemen who really didn’t know what they were doing for the Bears. The linebackers, oh my gosh, they looked lost at times. I’m still waiting for them to read play-action. They still can’t find it. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: lamar houston, Peyton Manning, Rob Gronkowski, Rob Ninkovich
Short week won’t get in the way of Patriots-Jets rivalry: ‘Everything goes out the window when you play these guys’ 10.13.14 at 9:13 pm ET
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FOXBORO — With just three days in between games when playing on Thursday Night Football, it might be tough to get up for your next opponent.

Not this week for the Patriots and Jets, as the AFC East division rivals will meet for the first time this season Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

“I think records go out the window when you play these guys,”€ special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “Everything goes out the window when you play these guys and you don’€™t have a problem getting up for them because of the history that is there. We will be ready as well.”

Even though the Jets come into the game 1-5 — losers of five straight — they are coming off a game Sunday where they were competitive right until the end with the Broncos, ultimately falling, 31-17. It is also their first division game of the season.

Having limited time to prepare, it does help facing a team you’€™re familiar with.

“Obviously every year teams are different,” Slater said. “We have new players, they have new players so there is still a sense of urgency when I comes to getting to know them, but it does help that we know some of their tendencies and we know their coach. We know kind of what to expect.”

After getting back from Buffalo late Sunday night, the biggest thing for the players is to try and get their bodies back to full strength after the beating they took Sunday afternoon, while also trying to become familiar with the game plan as quickly as possible with only two days until the game.

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Read More: Matthew Slater, New York Jets, Rob Ninkovich,
Patriots supporting Jerod Mayo following season-ending injury: ‘Hopefully we can play well for him’ at 7:57 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Sunday’€™s win over the Bills came with a big price.

The Patriots lost running back Stevan Ridley for the season with a torn ACL and MCL and also their leader on defense — captain Jerod Mayo to a ‘€œsevere lower right leg’€ injury, also reportedly ending his season.

It’€™s the second straight season Mayo has been lost for the year in Week 6 after he tore his pectoral last season and it gets no easier for his teammates, both coping with the injury as well as replacing him in the middle of the field at his middle linebacker position.

“With that happening yesterday, it was a blow,”€ fellow captain Matthew Slater said. “You can’€™t try and pretend it’€™s one of those things you can pick up and move on from because you feel for a guy like Jerod. I came in with Jerod, we were rookies together and to see him go down I know took a toll on me, but we have to do the best we can to bounce back.

“A lot of guys have to step up because a guy like that is hard to replace — not only what he does on the field, but who he is in this locker room. His leadership, the man that he is. A lot of guys can emulate and imitate because of who he is. Hopefully we can play well for him the rest of the year, but like I said there is no replacing him with one guy, it’€™s going to take a lot of guys stepping up.”

With all the season-ending injuries the defense had to deal with last season — including Mayo’s — defensive end/linebacker Rob Ninkovich was forced into playing much more than he was accustomed to and played quite well. Once again, it will take efforts like that to replace Mayo.

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Read More: Jerod Mayo, Matthew Slater, Rob Ninkovich,
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