|Penalty phase: Patriots, Dolphins two of league’s least-flagged teams||12.11.13 at 2:51 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Don’t expect a lot of stoppages in play Sunday.
This weekend’s game between the Patriots and Dolphins in South Florida will feature two of the least-penalized teams in the league. Not including penalties that were declined or offset, New England comes into the contest with 57 penalties — second fewest in the NFL — while the Dolphins are the least-penalized team in the league with 55. In addition, the 534 penalty yards against the Patriots is 30th in the league. Only Miami (502) and Indy (499) have been hit with fewer penalty yards.
Both the Dolphins and Patriots have played two games this season where they didn’t get hit with a single penalty. New England wasn’t flagged once in an October loss to the Bengals, as well as a win over the Texans earlier this month. Meanwhile, Miami wasn’t hit with a single penalty in a September win over Indy, as well as last week against the Steelers.
To put that sort of smart, disciplined play into proper perspective, there are teams like the Buccaneers (106), Seahawks (104) and Rams (100) that already are into triple digits when it comes to total penalties. Tampa Bay leads the league with 1,000 penalty yards, while Seattle is close behind at 966.
In truth, through the first 13 games, it’s been a good season for New England when it comes to penalties. Through 13 games last season, the Patriots had been hit with 79 penalties for a total of 680 yards. In the same span in 2011 (the first 13 games of the year), the Patriots had 74 penalties and 658 yards. While they won’t set the regular-season mark under Bill Belichick for fewest penalties and least penalty yardage — that came in 2008 with 57 penalties and 501 yards — this year’s total represents nearly a 20 percent reduction in penalties and penalty yardage from the previous two seasons.
“It’s just about playing smart football,” said defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich, who has been flagged for just one penalty this year and two dating back to the start of the 2012 season. “You can’t win football games and expect to win games by having a lot of penalties. It just comes down to basic fundamentals. If you’re a defense, you’re trying to do your best to stay onsides and not jump off — that’s huge for the D-line. Giving up free five-yard plays every time, that hurts eventually.”
The only positional grouping for the Patriots that hasn’t been flagged over the course of the first 13 games of the season is the running backs. In fact, the last two seasons, the running backs consistently have been one of the lowest-penalized positional groupings on the team. In 2012, they were the least-penalized group with two penalties and five yards, and in 2011 they had one penalty for five yards.
At the other end of the spectrum, the cornerbacks have been hit with 128 yards worth of penalties, including a team-high six for Aqib Talib. That high yardage total is no surprise — with pass interference and defensive holding calls coming into play, cornerbacks are the most likely position to rack up higher penalty yardage. (To that point, this year the Patriots have been hit with six defensive holding penalties — four of them against Talib — and four pass interference calls.)
|Rob Ninkovich on M&M: Antonio Smith’s insinuation ‘kind of a silly comment’||12.02.13 at 12:24 pm ET|
Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to talk about New England’s 34-31 win over the Texans on Sunday.
The Patriots moved to 9-3 on the season, but Houston defensive end Antonio Smith stole the spotlight with his comments after his team’s 10th straight loss. After the game Smith said he was “very suspicious” of New England’s adjustments in the second half, after the Patriots fell behind 17-7 in the first 30 minutes.
“It’s kind of a silly comment,” Ninkovich said. “I’m sure they’re a little upset that in the second half they couldn’t stop Tom [Brady] and our offense. It’s a comment where I really don’t know where that would come from.”
Stephen Gostkowski kicked the game-winning field goal with just over three minutes remaining to complete the comeback. The Texans also held a 31-28 lead in the fourth quarter.
“It’s an emotional game that we play, and people put a lot of heart and effort into preparing for a football game,” Ninkovich said, adding: “That’s a tough loss. … When you lose 10 in a row, I’m sure there’s a ton of frustration in that locker room.”
Ninkovich and his defensive unit did not play well against the hapless Texans. Rookie quarterback Case Keenum threw for 272 yards, and running back Ben Tate rushed for 102 yards and three touchdowns. Keenum also ran for a touchdown.
“We definitely do have to do a better job of playing our responsibilities and everyone doing their job,” said Ninkovich, who made four tackles and recorded two QB hits. “Good team defense is everybody playing their gap responsibly and not having those holes.”
The game was the Patriots’ second straight come-from-behind win. Two weeks ago, New England trailed the Broncos 24-0 heading into the third quarter. The Patriots went on to win 34-31 in overtime.
“We need to figure it out and play better, because you can’t spot a team 17, 24 [points], whatever it may be, in the first half and expect to win every game,” Ninkovich said.
|Rob Ninkovich on M&M: Bill Belichick’s decision to take wind over ball to start OT showed confidence in defense||11.25.13 at 1:39 pm ET|
Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich joined Mut & Merloni on Monday for his weekly chat, following Sunday night’s 34-31 overtime victory over the Broncos.
Ninkovich was one of the team captains who went on to the field before overtime, and he appeared confused about coach Bill Belichick‘s instructions regarding the coin toss, as Belichick went against conventional wisdom and elected to take the wind rather than the ball.
“Bill came up to each one of us and kind of explained what he wanted,” Ninkovich said. “When we won the toss, I was looking at [Devin McCourty] and I was like, ‘We want the ball, right.’ Because I thought that he was explaining we want — it was just a miscommunication between everybody when we won just of, ‘OK, Bill told us that we want to kick the ball so they’re facing the wind.’ But I guess when we won, it’s a natural instinct on overtime to be like, ‘Oh, yeah, you want the ball, right?’ ”
Ninkovich eventually looked back at the sideline to confirm Belichick’s order that the team wanted to choose the wind over the ball.
“The wind was definitely a factor. So, to have the wind at your back is definitely an advantage,” Ninkovich said. “Bill just had confidence that the defense was kind of getting into a groove there, shutting them down on their third-and-shorts, so they were trying to run those intermediate routes and stuff like that.
“It was a good call, right?”
The Broncos came into the game with the league’s leading passing offense, but they switched to the ground game for this one, with Knowshon Moreno rushing for 224 yards on 37 carries.
“I think when they realized that the wind was a factor and it was kind of difficult to get the ball down the field usually how they would normally run their offense, they just decided let’s get in third-and-manageable, like third-and-shorts so we can throw the ball maybe five to eight yards and pick up the first down,” Ninkovich said. “I think they ran the same play it seemed like 30 to 40 times. It felt like that they just ran the same inside run, inside run. It just felt like they ran it over and over again on first and second down and then they got in their spread, intermediate route type thing on third down.
“I think they might have changed their game plan once they took the field and realized that it was going to be difficult to get the ball down the field.”
Ninkovich was called for a questionable pass interference penalty during Denver’s fourth-quarter drive that led to the game-tying touchdown. On third-and-seven, Ninkovich was called for interfering with Jacob Tamme. The Broncos scored a touchdown on the next play.
“I was really surprised, because I was playing through the guy with my opposite hand to the ball,” Ninkovich said. “I was pushing through to the ball and I dove to get to the ball and the ball was thrown outside. And it almost was uncatchable, because I was right there. I didn’t feel like I tackled or grabbed the guy. I think he did a pretty good job of acting. As I tried to get to the ball, he kind of fell down.
“Again, it’s one of those things that I don’t have too many of those flags thrown on me. So, again, at the time it’s disappointing to have a good third-down stop giving them another chance to score and tie the game up.”
Added Ninkovich: “If I’m looking at the ball, and we’re both playing the ball and I’m trying to get to the ball with my hands, then there’s some contact. It happens when you’re both going for the ball. It’s not like I was just tackling him or just looking at him and he fell. I was looking at the ball the whole time. Again, it’s one of those calls that you just have to move on and move past and hope that it doesn’t affect the game to where you don’t get the win. We won, and I’m happy about that.”
|Rob Ninkovich on M&M: ‘It’s a blatant foul’||11.19.13 at 12:29 pm ET|
Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich joined Mut & Merloni on Tuesday, following Monday night’s controversial loss to the Panthers, and voiced his opinion on the non-call that ended the game.
Rob Gronkowski was impeded by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly in the end zone and a flag was thrown, but the officials determined the ball was not catchable and called off the penalty, giving Carolina a 24-20 victory.
“When you see a play like that — on the previous drive when Devin [McCourty] is holding his arms in the air and the tight end is pulling his arms to him and they call you for holding, that’s frustrating,” Ninkovich said. “And then when they throw a flag at the end of the game, you think, OK, it’s a blatant foul, the foul’s made, there’s a guy being [fouled], both arms are being wrapped around the receiver as the ball’s in the air, a foul’s a foul. No matter what it is, the ball’s there. It’s not like the ball’s 20 feet over his head or it lands on the 5-yard line or something. The ball’s there. … Anything within three feet of Gronk is a catchable ball.”
Ninkovich said the lack of an explanation on the field left the Patriots upset.
“That’s the frustrating part. You’re wanting to hear an explanation for why the flag was picked up and to clarify it or justify the reasoning behind it. The guy that threw the flag was the one that was standing right behind the ball, right there. And the side ref came over and said it wasn’t catchable. Anyone knows if you’re 20 yards away from the action, the ball might have looked not catchable, but when you’re right there — if you look at the replay, the ref that was right behind Gronk threw the flag.
“I don’t know. It’s a tough way to lose a game, especially when your offense does so well to get down to that point, and it’s an obvious foul. It should have been at least a five-yard penalty. If it wasn’t pass interference, it was defensive holding.”
That said, Ninkovich acknowledged that the Patriots had chances to win the game had they played better prior to that last play.
“There’s a ton of plays we could have done better, should have played better,” he said. “There’s always a handful of plays that change the game. I can think of three, four plays myself that defensively I could have done better and I should have not let the quarterback step up in the pocket. You’re always thinking about a certain play here or a certain play there. There’s never a perfect game, but at the end of the game, you want to feel good about what you did. I feel like we just had a bad taste in our mouth after that game. We should have definitely capitalized on our opportunities better.”
The Patriots are back in action Sunday night with a game against the Broncos, who are tied for the best record in the AFC at 9-1.
“We’re playing a big game. You’ve just got to turn the page on this last game here and move on from it,” Ninkovich said. “You can’t dwell on it and think about it during the week of preparation for Denver. We’re going to move on from it and try to learn from the mistakes that we made. It’s still a long season. We’ve got a lot of games to play. We’re still in a good position. We just have to continue to press on and improve and keep winning football games.”
Sunday night’s game will mark the return to Foxboro for Wes Welker, assuming he is recovered from his concussion suffered in Denver’s last game.
“I don’t think it will be any different. We’re just going to go out and play hard,” Ninkovich said. “We’ve got to prepare hard for Wes, he’s a great football player, we all know that. Again, just go out there and play just like it’s any other game. Just go after it. I’m still going to hit Wes like I hit any receiver. It will definitely be a fun game, a lot of excitement for this game.”
|Rob Ninkovich on M&M: Dolphins scandal ‘unfortunate’||11.11.13 at 3:01 pm ET|
Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to discuss New England’s bye week and the Jonathan Martin bullying saga.
Ninkovich and the Pats were out of action this week, as 7-2 New England enjoyed its bye week. The Patriots travel to Carolina next Monday night to take on the surprising 6-3 Panthers.
“I just wanted to get a little break here, and definitely clear my mind a little bit and focus on the family,” Ninkovich said, adding that he’d advise other to “take the time and use it wisely to try and get your body back to feeling pretty good, because there’s not much time like this to have a break and get your body going in the right direction.”
Ninkovich, a Patriots team captain, declined to elaborate on the Dolphins’ bullying fiasco.
“I really don’t want to get into the whole subject, issue of it,” Ninkovich said. “It’s something I have no idea about… [I’m] just trying to focus on our team and moving forward in the season here.”
ESPN’s Lisa Salters reported that Martin’s days as a Dolphin are likely done. It’s speculated that teammate Richie Incognito, who’s currently serving a suspension for an indefinite amount of time for bullying Martin, is also on the way out.
“I just think it’s unfortunate what happened down there,” Ninkovich said. “Eventually, they’re going to have to figure out what’s going to happen with him, and I just don’t want to get involved with it.”
|Foot Note: Rob Ninkovich sounds upbeat despite leaving Sunday’s game early||11.05.13 at 3:46 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Despite the fact that he went down in the second half of Sunday’s 55-31 win over the Steelers with a foot injury, defensive end Rob Ninkovich sounded an optimistic note about his health when asked after practice on Tuesday.
“In the game there, I had a little something there. [I] just don’t really want to get into the specifics of it, but it’s something that with having a week off, I’m sure I’ll feel even better next week and running around and doing whatever it is as far as a week of recovery,” he said after taking part in a padded practice with the rest of the team on Tuesday.
After Ninkovich left the field Sunday because of the injury, he went to the locker room, but was back on the field down the stretch, and it appeared he would have been able to play if the game was closer. (He was seen on the sidelines on several occasions going through drills and apparently trying to test the fitness of the foot.) In the end, the Patriots decided that it would be better safe than sorry when it came to Ninkovich — veteran Andre Carter took most of the snaps in his place — who will also get the bye week to continue to try and rest up.
With the staggering amount of injuries New England has had to deal with on the defensive side of the ball — defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, along with linebacker Jerod Mayo are all on season-ending injured reserve — Ninkovich has become especially important to the success of the Patriots’ defense. The 6-foot-2, 260-pounder has taken on more responsibility when it comes to an on-field presence. In addition, he was named a captain in the wake of the losses of Wilfork and Mayo.
Coming out of the bye, the Patriots begin a key stretch of games, with the first coming against the Panthers in Carolina on Nov. 18. Ninkovich says there’s a lot to work on between now and then.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” he said. “If you look at the two games we didn’t win, there’s a lot of things in those games that are kind of similar as far as not starting fast and not coming out in the third quarter and finishing games.
“Really just trying to have a full four-quarter victory is something that we’re still trying to have and I don’t think we’ve done it yet,” he continued. “So we’re going to continue to work to come out and start fast [in] all three phases, then at halftime come out in all three phases, work together, all four quarters.”
|Analysis: What does the trade for Isaac Sopoaga mean for Patriots?||10.29.13 at 4:24 pm ET|
The acquisition of defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga fills a glaring void in the middle of New England’s run defense that had been a problem since Vince Wilfork went down last month with an Achilles injury.
A 6-foot-2, 330-pound run stuffer in the Wilfork mold, the 32-year-old Sopoaga projects to be the man in the middle for the Patriots when it comes to stopping the run. The Hawaii product, who is in his 10th season in the league, is a big body whose speciality is clogging up the middle and occupying double teams. The 32-year-old, who has played with the 49ers (2004-2012) and Eagles (2013), has played some defensive tackle and nose tackle in his career. He has 226 career tackles and seven career sacks. (He’s also played a little fullback, lining up in the backfield for a couple of plays last year for the Niners.)
Considered a 3-4 nose tackle, Sopoaga figures to take some of the workload off youngsters Chris Jones and Joe Vellano, who had stepped up and played well in the wake of the injuries to Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, but now figure to work more in rotational situations (particularly Jones, who has shown a real nice ability to get after the passer). It wouldn’t be a surprise to see New England run more 3-4, at least until Kelly returns on a regular basis, with Sopoaga occupying the nose and Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones at the defensive end spots.
The Patriots were extremely stout against the run over the first month-plus of the season — through the first four games, New England was 13th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, yielding an average of 105 yards per game on the ground. But over the last four weeks, they’ve given up 646 total rush yards to the Bengals, Saints, Jets and Dolphins — an average of 156.5 yards per game. Going into this weekend’s game against the Steelers, the Patriots are allowing 130.8 rushing yards per game, 31st in the league.
Financially, the Patriots aren’t taking a big hit, at least for 2013. Sopoaga signed 3-year deal with Eagles this year which called for him to make base salaries of $1 million in 2013, $3.75 million in 2014 and $3.5 million in 2015. (Those numbers could be adjusted down the road depending on how he takes to the New England system this year.) And the prospect of getting him for a draft pick smells of a relatively no-risk situation for the Patriots.
It marks the second consecutive year the Patriots pulled off a deadline deal — last year, New England acquired Aqib Talib at the deadline, and the cornerback has done a lot to transform the way the Patriots have played defense over the last year. If Sopoaga can come in and have even half the sort of impact defensively that Talib has shown over the last 12 months, New England will be very happy.
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